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Swiss President Says Rohingya Return Must Be Voluntary

  • Associated Press

Swiss President Alain Berset addresses the media after talks with Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen at the Hofburg palace in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.

Swiss President Alain Berset said Monday the return of Rohingya Muslims who have fled violence in Myanmar must be voluntary.

Berset, who is on a four-day visit to Bangladesh, said after meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina that the situation of Rohingya in Bangladesh refugee camps is of great concern to his country.

He said a recent agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar on repatriation of the refugees is a positive move, but it's "important that all returns are voluntary and safe, and carried out in dignity."

Berset also pledged to provide an additional 12 million francs ($12.9 million) for Rohingya this year.

He is expected to visit Rohingya refugee camps on Tuesday.

The Swiss president praised Bangladesh's hosting of the refugees."Switzerland commends your government and the people of Bangladesh for the solidarity, assistance and protection offered to the Rohingya," he said.

Rohingya refugees jostle as they line up for a blanket distribution under heavy rainfall at the Balukhali camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Dec. 11, 2017.
Rohingya refugees jostle as they line up for a blanket distribution under heavy rainfall at the Balukhali camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Dec. 11, 2017.

Up to 500,000 Rohingya have been living for decades in Bangladesh, and more than 680,000 more have arrived since August, putting extreme pressure on the country's resources. Sheikh Hasina said Bangladesh would do its best, but Myanmar must accept them all back.

Berset's visit is the first by a Swiss president to Bangladesh since it gained independence from Pakistan 1n 1971.

The recent surge in the number of Rohingya Muslims fleeing from Buddhist-majority Myanmar followed a crackdown launched by the Myanmar military in August. In November, Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed to gradually repatriate the refugees. The returns were scheduled to begin in January, but were delayed by incomplete preparations and concerns that the Rohingya were being forced back.

Human rights groups have expressed concern about the safety and security of the refugees if they are sent back.

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