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UN Expert Urges Independent Assessment Of Bhasan Char And Verification Of Voluntary Relocation

The failure to create conditions necessary for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to return home to Myanmar, after more than three years, has created an untenable situation for both the Rohingya and the government of Bangladesh, a UN human rights expert said today.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, expressed concerns about reports that 1,642 Rohingya refugees have been relocated to Bhasan Char island without an independent assessment by the United Nations to verify that the island is suitable to safely host this vulnerable population.

Andrews urged the government of Bangladesh to make refugee relocation contingent on the outcome of UN proposed assessments of Bhasan Char island and to an independent international verification process to confirm that those slated for relocation made their decision of their own free will and with complete and accurate information.

“These verifications and assessments are in the best interest of all,” he said. “They will assure the government of Bangladesh of the suitability of Bhasan Char to host refugees or identify changes that might be necessary. It will also assure that the government’s policy of strict voluntary relocation to Bhasan Char is, indeed, being faithfully carried out.”

Andrews said he was concerned by reports that some of the relocations were done involuntarily through either coercion or misinformation.

He said it was reasonable for the Bangladesh government to seek to create options for the refugees who desire alternatives to the mega camps in Cox’s Bazar. “The Bangladesh government has been extraordinarily generous and compassionate in providing desperate people with a safe haven in their time of need,” he added.

“Make no mistake: the Rohingya crisis emanated from Myanmar and can only be solved in Myanmar,” Andrews said. “The government of Myanmar has the moral and legal responsibility to end this crisis. After being forced to literally run for their lives over the border into Bangladesh, the Rohingya want, and deserve, to return home.

“It is reasonable, therefore, for the government of Bangladesh to seek what it correctly describes as the only durable solution to the crisis – the repatriation of the Rohingya to their home villages. The international community must support this effort and ensure that repatriation is done voluntarily, safely, and with dignity.”

The UN expert said the international community must acknowledge, however, that after three years its policy with respect to the Rohingya refugees has failed.

“It has failed because Myanmar remains unwilling to take meaningful steps to create conditions necessary for the safe, sustainable, and dignified return to the Rohingya’s place of origin in Rakhine State,” Andrews said. “And, it has failed by not sufficiently resourcing Bangladesh to carry out its humanitarian mission.”

He said it was imperative for the international community to engage in a concerted effort to support Rohingya refugees and their fundamental right to return home. This could be done by:

  1. Providing greater financial support to Bangladesh to meet the tremendous burden of providing safe haven to the Rohingya;
  2. Demanding that the Myanmar government create the conditions necessary for the Rohingya to return and rebuild in their places of origin safely, voluntarily, and with dignity;
  3. Providing technical support to accomplish the safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation; and
  4. Instituting clear, enforceable, time-bound benchmarks that the government of Myanmar must adhere to for the Rohingya’s repatriation.

“We must no longer simply thank Bangladesh for its humanitarian assistance while providing lip service to the Rohingya’s right of return,” he said. “The international community must provide support, action, and accountability.”

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