UN official says not safe yet for Rohingya return to Myanmar

Attacks on Rohingya Muslims appear to be continuing in Myanmar and it is not yet safe for the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh to begin returning to their homes, a high-ranking United Nations official said.

Many Rohingya want to return eventually to their villages in Myanmar, said Justin Forsyth, UNICEF deputy executive director, during a Wednesday visit to the immense Kutupalong refugee camp. But they fear for their safety if they were to go back now.

“The situation isn’t safe for the returns to begin,” he said. “I spoke to one young woman, who had been on the phone to her aunt, in Rakhine in Myanmar. And they were attacking villages even today.”

More than 680,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state beginning in August, after Myanmar security forces began attacking their villages in the wake of attacks by Rohingya insurgents on police posts.

Gradual repatriations of Rohingya were to begin Tuesday, under agreements signed by Myanmar and Bangladesh, but Bangladeshi officials delayed the returns at the last minute, saying more time was needed amid questions about safety and whether the refugees were returning voluntarily.

Forsyth noted that international organizations do not have access to many areas affected by the crisis in Myanmar.

“As well as security, we need to be able to provide humanitarian support for people when they return. And at the moment those conditions aren’t in place,” he said.

Rohingya have long faced repression in Myanmar. They are widely dismissed as illegal migrants from Bangladesh and denied some of the most basic rights, including the freedom of movement. In 1982, nearly all Rohingya were stripped of their citizenship rights.

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