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Refugees Criticize UN-Myanmar Repatriation Deal

FILE - A Rohingya woman is seen at Balukhali refugee camp at dawn near Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 28, 2018.

Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar for Bangladesh amid a brutal army crackdown last year are criticizing a repatriation agreement between the Myanmar government and two U.N. agencies, following the leak of a draft of the deal online last week.

In early June, UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, and the U.N. Development Program signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Myanmar government regarding the repatriation of refugees to Bangladesh.

After the agreement was signed, the United Nations called it a “first and necessary step” towards creating conditions for the “voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable” repatriation of refugees from Bangladesh. But the details of the deal were kept secret, something that attracted criticism from Rohingya refugees and human rights groups.

The leaked draft version was dated May 30, the day before the final agreement was signed, and sources familiar with the matter told VOA it closely resembled the final MoU.

The refugees now say they mistrust the process.

“People feel sad about this, they are worried and surprised the U.N. agencies have signed this deal,” said a Rohingya man living in Bangladesh who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity. “Their main concerns are the lack of assurances of security, and rights of people like those who returned in 1978 and 1992.”

The Rohingya want firm guarantees of citizenship, freedom of movement, and safety should they return. They say the language in the agreement is too vague.

The refugees also say they want to be consulted in future agreements.

Myanmar insists it is ready to begin repatriation of the estimated 700,000 people, overwhelmingly Rohingya, who fled violence last year in Rakhine State, but many in the international community say conditions are not conducive for the returns to take place.