YANGON (Reuters) – The UN refugee agency will not provide humanitarian assistance to Rohingya Muslims returning to Myanmar if they are interned in camps, according to a summary report released a few days before the start of repatriation .
PHOTO FILE: View from the outside of the Taung Pyo Letwe home camp near the border with Bangladesh, in Rakhine State, Myanmar, during a trip from the emissaries United Nations in the region on May 1, 2018. REUTERS / Michelle Nichols / File Photo
The confidential information document dated this month and discussed by Reuters on Tuesday outlines the position of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on the repatriation process and reflects the wish not to support camps. long term for refugees. Muslim minority.
A spokeswoman for UNHCR said she did not comment on the leaked documents.
Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed in late October to begin repatriating some hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas who had fled Myanmar last year to escape armed repression, despite warnings from the UN and the United Nations. agencies that the conditions were not yet secure. their return.
Myanmar has built transit centers for refugees that it says will be temporary, but many Rohingyas fear that these sites will become permanent due to severe restrictions on movement imposed on the largely stateless minority.
The UNHCR document indicates that the agency "will not provide individual assistance in camp situations, including in reception facilities or transit camps", unless it is obviously of a temporary nature and used for the sole purpose of facilitating the free movement of persons in places of origin or choice of returnees ".
The document, which has been distributed to diplomats, also advises other agencies not to help establish such camps.
Tens of thousands of Rohingyas langk in UK-backed camps and villages in western Myanmar since 2012, when they were driven from their homes during a previous wave of ethnic violence. They were told that the camps, the areas surrounded by razor wire that they were forbidden to leave, would be temporary.
Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay did not respond to calls for comments on Tuesday.
The US State Department said Sunday in a statement that all returnees to Myanmar "must have freedom of movement and not be confined to camps".
Last year, more than 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh to escape armed repression in northern Myanmar's Rakhine State. United States investigators have accused Myanmar's armed forces of "genocidal" intent and ethnic cleansing. Myanmar denies almost all the allegations against its troops, claiming that the security forces were fighting terrorists.
In the document, UNHCR also highlights its involvement in the repatriation process organized by Myanmar and Bangladesh, indicating that its officials will investigate whether several thousand Rohingyas on a list of refugees identified for repatriation to Myanmar wish to return.
Last week, more than 20 people on the list of potential candidates for return submitted by Bangladesh told Reuters that they would refuse to return, saying they fear for their safety.
More than one million Rohingyas were living in Rakhine before the exodus of refugees started last August. The state has long been torn by tensions between Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingya, who are generally denied citizenship and are subject to severe restrictions on their movement.
The note consulted by Reuters reiterates UNHCR's position that conditions in Rakhine do not favor returns.
This view was repeated on Tuesday by UNHCR's Deputy High Commissioner for Protection Volker Turk.
"I think we are not yet at the stage where conditions are in place to facilitate or promote returns at this stage," Volker said at a press conference in Geneva.
"So, if there are indeed people who want to return, we must absolutely ensure that we are able to certify that they are doing it on (based on) a free and informed choice."
UNHCR called on the document in Myanmar to publish more information on the Rohingya return and reintegration projects.
Myanmar's Minister of Social Affairs, Win Myat Aye, said Sunday that preparations had been made for 2,251 people to be transported Thursday to two transit centers, while a second group of 2,095 people could follow more late by the road.
Once treated, they would be sent to another center where they would be accommodated and nurtured until their resettlement, he said.
Returnees would only be allowed to travel within the city of Maungdaw as long as they accepted national verification cards, a piece of identity that most Rohingya reject because they declare that it mark them as strangers.
Authorities have announced plans to build homes at 42 sites across Rakhine, but have not revealed their location.
In its memo, UNHCR stated that the organization would provide support to refugees living in "resettlement sites and model villages" in Rakhine State only if they were "located in origin or choice of refugees ".
Report by Poppy Elena McPherson; Additional report by Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in Geneva; Edited by Alex Richardson