GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - The U.N. refugee agency warns it is premature for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, to return to Myanmar because their safety cannot be guaranteed.
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.
As of now, the UNHCR says necessary safeguards for people to return to the homes they fled so recently are absent. Agency spokesman, Adrian Edwards told VOA conditions for voluntary, safe, sustainable returns are not in place.
“Anxiety is high in the refugee community in Cox’s Bazar and that presents a risk if not properly managed ... Solutions to this crisis ultimately lie in Myanmar. What we need to see in Myanmar is that the guaranteed safeguards that people are expecting are properly in place. At the present, they are not,” he said.
The UNHCR is calling for unhindered access in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State so it can assess the conditions of return. It says its presence in the area would allow aid workers to help address the legitimate safety concerns for any refugees thinking of going back to the homes they fled.
For now, the agency warns against hasty returns, saying the risk of violence breaking out again is too great to ignore.