YANGON, MYANMAR —
The new advisory board created to counsel Myanmar in the ongoing Rohingya humanitarian crisis is backing the government’s plan to receive returning Rohingya refugees. They were given a brief tour of the repatriation sites following the abrupt resignation of former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson.
Richardson, speaking to VOA over the phone from the United States, said he supported statements from the United Nations that refugee returns are “premature” without access for aid agencies and independent observers, who could assess local conditions and allow refugees in Bangladesh to make genuinely informed choices about returning.
The former governor of New Mexico and longtime supporter of Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement on Wednesday resigned from a panel set up by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi to help implement recommendations from an earlier commission, led by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, for long-term solutions to the Rakhine crisis.
Shortly after those recommendations were released in August, Rohingya militant attacks prompted a scorched-earth military campaign that the U.N. and Western governments have called ethnic cleansing. More than 680,000 Rohingya have since fled to Bangladesh, joining more than 85,000 displaced in a crackdown the previous year.
Time for Rohingya to return?
Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees spokesperson Adrian Edwards said on Tuesday “the necessary safeguards for potential returnees are absent,” noting restrictions on aid and media access and the continued arrival of refugees in Bangladesh.
“The risk of dangerous and rushed returns into a situation where violence might reignite is too great to be ignored,” Edwards said.
Richardson agreed that before refugees return, “there have to be more assurances for their safety.” They also must be given “information about their future potential for citizenship,” and guarantees of “housing, education for their children, protection, and some kind of a future.
“I don’t think conditions are there yet,” he said, calling for the government to lift its blanket restrictions on U.N. agencies, who are “key in ensuring safe passage.”
“This is why the government of Bangladesh has delayed the repatriation, because these refugees aren’t ensured of their safety,” he added Friday. “They’re probably thinking they’re gonna end up in mass graves. They have no guarantees about their citizenship. They should be given a path to citizenship. There’s no guarantee that they’re gonna be able to go back to their homes safely.”
Richardson quit the 10-member advisory panel, made up of local and international experts and chaired by former Thai deputy prime minister Surakiart Sathirathai, after angry exchanges with Aung San Suu Kyi on the board’s opening trip to Myanmar. In a statement, he said it was “likely to become a cheerleading squad for government policy.”
Source: Voice of America