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UN: Conditions Not Ripe for Return of Rohingya Refugees to Myanmar

FILE - Rohingya refugees rest at a transit center for new arrivals at Kutupalong refugee settlement near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Dec. 1, 2017.

The United Nations refugee agency says conditions are not ripe for the safe and stable return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar, a country they recently fled to escape violence and persecution.

Some 645,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, since the end of August, the United Nations reports. Although the number of new arrivals has slowed, aid officials say this does not indicate the situation in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state has improved.

Two weeks ago, Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement on the voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees. The U.N. refugee agency, which was not party to the agreement, says it is prepared to discuss arrangements for the free, safe, voluntary and dignified return of the refugees.

But UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards says it is premature to repatriate the refugees, as the conditions for a stable and sustainable return do not exist.

"Many refugees, as you know, have suffered severe violence and trauma," Edwards said. "Many have lost family members, relatives and friends. Many have seen their homes, their villages torched and destroyed. Deep divisions between the communities in Rakhine state remain unaddressed and humanitarian access, at this time, is not there. It is critical that the returns are not rushed or premature."

Peace and stability must be restored, humanitarian agencies must have access to the area, and the root causes of the displacement must be dealt with in order to create an environment conducive to safe and dignified returns, Edwards said.