First Rohingya family repatriated to Myanmar


Myanmar has accepted what appears to be the first five among some 700,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees who fled military-led violence against the minority group, even though the United Nations says it is not yet safe for them to return home.

Rights groups have criticised the announcement as a publicity stunt and Bangladesh has distanced itself, saying the repatriation was not part of the return process the two countries have been trying to start.

According to UN officials, almost 700,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh from Rakhine to escape a military crackdown since August, amid reports of murder, rape and arson by Myanmar troops and Buddhist vigilantes which the United Nations has likened to "ethnic cleansing". The United States government and the United Nations describe the violence against the Rohingya as "ethnic cleansing".

The Myanmar government says it has been engaged in a justified campaign against Rohingya militants in Rakhine state.

A statement posted on the official Facebook page of the government's Information Committee said "the five members of a family. came back to Taungpyoletwei town repatriation camp in Rakhine state this morning".

Since the family did not enter Bangladesh, and used to live in the no man's land, their return can not be considered repatriation, Relief and Refugee Repatriation Commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam said on Sunday.

Several thousand Rohingya have been living in the zone since August, crammed into a cluster of tents beyond a barbed-wire fence that roughly demarcates the border.

The two countries in January agreed that a repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Burma would take place within two years."I hope Myanmar will repatriate all the families within the possible shortest time", added Ashaduzzaman on Sunday. It said that the family had been staying with family members in Maungdaw town, the center near the border.

The Facebook post did not mention plans for further returnees expected in the near future.

The statement said authorities determined whether they had lived in Myanmar and provided them with a national verification card.

Photos posted by the government showed one man, two women, a young girl and a boy receiving the ID cards and getting health checks.

Although the Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for many generations, most people in Myanmar consider them unwanted immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh and refer to them as "Bengalis, " a term the Rohingya consider derogatory.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees also said in a statement on Sunday that it had no direct knowledge of the case and was not asked to be involved in process.

Myanmar must address "critical issues of freedom of movement, social cohesion, livelihoods, and access to services", Ursula Mueller, Secretary General for the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told AFP earlier this month after a visit to Rakhine.

Many Rohingya refugees express fear of returning to a country where they saw their relatives murdered by soldiers and Buddhist vigilantes who drove them from their homes with bullets and arson.

Muazzem Ali said at the core of the problem is the refusal of Myanmar authorities to recognize them as their citizens, although they have been living there for centuries, as their citizens. Hundreds of Rohingya were reportedly killed in the recent violence, and many houses and villages burned to the ground.