WASHINGTON / COX’S BAZAR, BANGLADESH The United States says it will continue efforts to support Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority through humanitarian aid and diplomacy.
A U.S. delegation on Sunday visited a camp hosting Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar region, where it met with refugees and local officials.
More than 700,000 Rohingya have settled in Bangladesh, escaping a major crackdown by Myanmar’s military last year.
U.S. officials said the situation in areas where Rohingya refugees are expected to resettle in Myanmar is not suitable for a safe return.
Right now, the conditions on the ground in the areas of potential return are not adequate to support a sustainable return of the population,” said Richard Albright, deputy assistant secretary of state, who headed the U.S. delegation.
Albright said the U.S. had been engaged in talks with Myanmar authorities to facilitate the return of Rohingya refugees to their home country.
We consistently discussed with the government of Myanmar the need for access for humanitarian actors so they can reach the communities in need. We asked them to make progress on a transparent and efficient process for nationality claims for the Rohingya,” he said.
Prior to his Bangladesh visit, Albright also visited areas in Myanmar, including Rakhine state, where the majority of Rohingya Muslims lived.
“These visits are part of the U.S. Embassy’s regular travel to look at our humanitarian assistance programs throughout the country and to better understand the conditions on the ground,” the embassy in Myanmar said in a statement last week.
U.S. aid agencies have been providing humanitarian assistance to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, as well as supporting development programs inside Myanmar.
Myanmar officials said that more than 5,000 refugees in Bangladesh had been confirmed to return home this week.
Analysts were skeptical about a safe return of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar.
“While the Myanmar authorities may have announced that they are ready to receive several thousand Rohingya refugees, it is not clear whether refugees themselves feel safe enough to return home,” Vikram Nehru, a Southeast Asia expert at John Hopkins University, told VOA.
Nehru added that “a precondition for the return of the refugees should be some international oversight to ensure the security of the refugees once they return.”
Rohingya Muslims are living in fear after being told that authorities in Bangladesh and Myanmar are considering the repatriation of thousands of refugees to Myanmar as part of a deal reached last month. The official return is set to begin this month.
Some Rohingya, fearing persecution upon their return, have said they are considering taking their own lives to avoid being sent back to Rakhine state, where Myanmar’s military is accused of having waged a genocidal campaign against the minority group.
“If we go back, they can kill us, they can torture us. We have already lost everything once,” said one man from the Jamtoli camp, speaking on condition of anonymity, who was told by camp officials that he and his family were on the list.
Bangladesh’s refugee relief and rehabilitation commissioner, Abul Kalam, has told Human Rights Watch the Rohingya on the list “were not chosen because they particularly wanted to go back.”
The U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights for Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, has called on both countries to scrap the plan to return people this month, warning the Rohingya face a “high risk of persecution” if returned.
The plan may also “violate obligations under customary international law to uphold the principle of non-refoulement,” she added.
Bangladesh should not be sending anyone at this time,” Nay San Lwin, a Rohingya activist, told VOA. “Forcing survivors and refugees back to the killing fields where genocide is still going on is complicity in genocide.”
Myanmar’s government and its military have come under international criticism over their handling of the Rohingya crisis.
Different international rights groups have also criticized the country’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, for failing to prevent violence against the Rohingya.
On Monday, Amnesty International stripped Aung San Suu Kyi of its top honor for her failure to criticize or halt violence against her country’s Rohingya population.
During her detention, Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. In 2009, Amnesty gave her its highest honor, naming her an Ambassador of Conscience.
But since becoming Myanmar’s de facto civilian leader in 2016, she and her administration have been criticized worldwide for failing to condemn or try to stop atrocities perpetrated by the military against Rohingya.
Source: Voice of America