News ID: 213263
Published: 1159 GMT April 15, 2018

Myanmar announces return of first Rohingya family

Myanmar announces return of first Rohingya family
AP

Myanmar's government said it has repatriated the first family of Rohingya refugees, among the 700,000 who fled a brutal crackdown, but the move was slammed by rights groups as a publicity stunt which ignored warnings over the security of returnees.

The Muslim minority has been massing in squalid refugee camps across the border in Bangladesh since the Myanmar army launched a ruthless campaign against the community in northern Rakhine state last August.

The United Nations says the operation amounts to ethnic cleansing, but Myanmar has denied the charge.

Bangladesh and Myanmar vowed to begin repatriation in January but the plan has been repeatedly delayed as both sides blame the other for a lack of preparation.

According to a Myanmar government statement posted late Saturday, one family of refugees became the first to be processed in newly-built reception centers earlier in the day.

"The five members of a family... came back to Taungpyoletwei town repatriation camp in Rakhine state this morning," said a statement posted on the official Facebook page of the government's Information Committee.

Bangladesh's refugee commissioner, Mohammad Abul Kalam, told AFP the Rohingya family had been living in a camp erected on a patch of "no man's land" between the two countries.

Several thousand Rohingya have been living in the zone since August, crammed into a cluster of tents beyond a barbed-wire fence that roughly demarcates the border.

The rest of the refugees have settled in sprawling camps in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district.

"They were not under our jurisdiction, therefore, we cannot confirm whether there would be more people waiting to go back (to Myanmar)," Kalam told AFP of the returnees.

A Rohingya community leader in the no man's land camp also confirmed the family's return.

According to the Myanmar statement, immigration authorities provided the group with National Verification Cards, a form of ID that falls short of citizenship and has been rejected by many Rohingya leaders who want full rights before they return.

Photos posted by the government showed one man, two women, a young girl and a boy receiving the ID cards and getting health checks.

It said that the family had been sent to stay "temporarily" with relatives in Rakhine state's Maungdaw town after "finishing the repatriation process".

The move comes despite warnings from the UN and other rights groups that a mass repatriation of Rohingya would be premature, as Myanmar has yet to address the systematic legal discrimination and persecution the minority has faced for decades.

The Rohingya are reviled by many in the Buddhist-majority country, where they are branded as illegal "Bengali" immigrants from Bangladesh, despite their long roots in Rakhine state.

They have been targeted by waves of violence, systematically stripped of their citizenship and forced to live in apartheid-like conditions with severely restricted access to healthcare, education and other basic services.

The repatriation announcement is "a public relations exercise in an attempt to deflect attention from the need for accountability for crimes committed in Rakhine State", said Andrea Giorgetta from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

The UN maintains that much work needs to be done before repatriation can be safe and dignified.

 

 

   
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