UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, notes yesterday’s (15 January) meeting of the Joint Working Group on returns between the Governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar, in Naypiydaw, Myanmar. They reportedly discussed the implementation of their bilateral arrangement signed on 23 November 2017 on the return of refugees who have been arriving from Rakhine State in Myanmar into Bangladesh since 25 August. UNHCR underscores the importance of the dialogue between the two States at the core of which is the right of refugees to voluntarily return home. To ensure that the refugees are heard and their protection guaranteed in Bangladesh and on return in Myanmar, we are willing to be part of these discussions.
UNHCR understands that in yesterday’s discussions, Bangladesh and Myanmar focused on the modalities for the return of refugees to Myanmar. In any refugee situation, UNHCR hopes that refugees will be able to return home when they themselves choose to. Before considering return to Myanmar, some Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have informed UNHCR staff that they would need to see positive developments in relation to their legal status and citizenship, the security situation in Rakhine State, and their ability to enjoy basic rights back home.
Major challenges have to be overcome. These include ensuring that refugees are informed about the situation in their areas of origin and potential return and consulted on their wishes; that their safety is ensured throughout – on departure, in transit and on return; and that the environment in the areas of return is conducive for safe and sustainable return.
In this context, we have observed that the Government of Myanmar has endorsed the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission (RAC) lead by Kofi Annan and reiterated its commitment in the bilateral Arrangement with the Government of Bangladesh. A comprehensive implementation of the Rakhine Advisory Commission recommendations is essential to ensure sustainable return. These stress the importance of ensuring peace and security for all communities in Rakhine State, reducing communal divisions, and achieving solutions for the legal and citizenship status of Muslim communities. We look to Myanmar to urgently implement these recommendations.
In Myanmar, UNHCR and our partners need urgent, unhindered access in Rakhine State, in order to assess the situation and provide support to those in need who are still in Rakhine and to help with rebuilding efforts. While a few agencies have regained limited access in the northern part of Rakhine State, UNHCR staff are not currently authorised to travel outside Maungdaw town.
Meanwhile humanitarian efforts continue in Bangladesh. Over the weekend, UNHCR and our partners started relocating more than 9,400 refugees who had been living in isolated border locations in Bangladesh, to Kutupalong refugee camp.
These refugees had initially chosen to stay near the border to remain close to their homes. Their isolated location also meant that they received little assistance and had no access to informal education or medical facilities. The nearest hospital for emergency cases was more than an hour away.
They agreed to move to Kutupalong refugee settlement where they could more easily access assistance and basic services.
In the last two days more than four hundred of these refugees have been taken by buses to Kutupalong camp where they underwent medical checks, and received hot meals, emergency relief items as well as shelter kits. They told UNHCR staff they were very happy to be in the camp with other members of their community, to get help and be able to sleep in peace. The relocation movements will continue over the next few weeks.
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