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Rohingya refugee returns must meet international standards

Rohingya families arrive at a UNHCR transit centre near the village of Anjuman Para, Cox’s Bazar, south-east Bangladesh after spending four days stranded at the Myanmar border with some 6,800 refugees. UNHCR image

Rohingya families arrive at a UNHCR transit centre near the village of Anjuman Para, Cox’s Bazar, south-east Bangladesh after spending four days stranded at the Myanmar border with some 6,800 refugees. UNHCR image

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR takes note of reports that the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar have reached agreement on the return of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. Some 622,000 people have fled Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State since 25 August, triggered by a wave of violence underpinned by denial of citizenship and decades of deep discrimination.

UNHCR has not yet seen the details of the agreement. Refugees have the right to return. And a framework that enables them to exercise this right in line with international standards, will be welcome. First and foremost, this means that return must be voluntary, and take place in safe and dignified conditions that pave the way for lasting solutions.

At present, conditions in Myanmar’s Rakhine State are not in place to enable safe and sustainable returns. Refugees are still fleeing, and many have suffered violence, rape, and deep psychological harm. Some have witnessed the deaths of family members and friends. Most have little or nothing to go back to, their homes and villages destroyed. Deep divisions between communities remain unaddressed. And humanitarian access in northern Rakhine State remains negligible.

It is critical that returns do not take place precipitously or prematurely, without the informed consent of refugees or the basic elements of lasting solutions in place. People must have the option of returning home, and not be confined to specific areas. Progress towards addressing the root causes of flight, including their lack of citizenship, as recommended by the Rakhine Advisory Commission, will also be crucial.

UNHCR looks forward to seeing details of the agreement between the two countries, and stands ready to help both governments work towards a solution for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh that meets international refugee and human rights standards.

—ENDS—

For Canadian media enquiries, please contact John Cockell at cockell@unhcr.org or at +1 613 232 0909 ext. 259

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