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UNICEF: Myanmar Must Guarantee Protection of Rohinyga Refugees

UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth, left, shares biscuits with Rohingya refugee children as he leaves Balukhali refugee camp 50 kilometres (32 miles) from, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018.

Myanmar must ensure humanitarian access and improved security in the Rakhine state before refugees, specifically children, can return from neighboring Bangladesh, the U.N. Children's Fund said Wednesday.

UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth said Wednesday 58 percent of the refugees are children, many of whom are still traumatized by their experiences. .

"It is critical that their rights and needs in terms of protection and aid are front and center in any agreement to return families to Myanmar. Return of refugees to Myanmar must be voluntary, safe and dignified," Forsyth said, speaking from the Kutapalong refugee camp in southern Bangladesh.

More than 650,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh since the end of August to escape violence and persecution in Myanmar.

The U.N. refugee agency reports refugees from northern Rakhine State continue to arrive in Bangladesh, though at a slower rate.

Two months ago, the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed on the voluntary return of the refugees to Myanmar. The operation was supposed to have begun Tuesday, but the Bangladeshi authorities reportedly have postponed the repatriation process.

The U.N. refugee agency warned Tuesday it was "premature" for the refugees to return to Myanmar because their safety cannot be guaranteed.