A Myanmar official in Rakhine state said Saturday that Rohingya refugees who return will not be held in newly-built camps “forever,” as concerns mount over a vexed repatriation process.
Ye Htut, the administrator of Maungdaw district, was speaking to reporters on a government-chaperoned trip to northern Rakhine, the site of a military crackdown last August that has emptied the region of some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims.
Myanmar has been trumpeting its readiness to take back refugees, who are massed across the border in Bangladesh, and built reception centers and transit camps for returnees.
But not a single Rohingya has crossed the border, with the United Nations sounding the alarm that Myanmar must do far more to ensure the safety of a minority that was targeted in an army-led campaign the UN branded “ethnic cleansing.”
Rights groups have also raised concerns about how Myanmar is reshaping Rakhine in the Rohingyas’ absence, with authorities bulldozing over their burned villages and building new settlements and security posts.
An AFP reporter witnessed a flurry of construction in the region on Saturday, with work crews erecting new prefabricated houses along a road leading to Maungdaw town.
Speaking to reporters from his office, Ye Htut insisted that any Rohingya returnees would eventually be resettled close to their original villages after staying in transit camps.
“I can’t ask them to live (at the camps) forever as we can’t manage like that. We don’t have any vision or intention to keep them long,” he said.
The government “will return them back to their native villages or close by,” he added.
Myanmar has vehemently denied accusations that is trying to erase the Rohingya’s ties to Rakhine, insisting the army crackdown was a targeted assault on Muslim militants.
But the UN and rights groups have pointed to the country’s long history of marginalizing and persecuting the Rohingya, who are denied citizenship and loathed by the Buddhist majority.
More than 100,000 are still languishing in a squalid refugee camp in southern Rakhine state after being displaced by communal violence in 2012.
On Friday the head of the UN’s refugee agency, Filippo Grandi, said the conditions for the Rohingyas’ safe return were not yet in place and that discussions with Myanmar on repatriation “have been pretty basic, not very frequent (and) not very advanced”.
Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a deal that was supposed to see repatriation begin in January. But Myanmar has so far agreed to accept only 374 of 8,000 refugees whose names have been put forward by Dhaka for the initial batch of returnees.
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