New York: Two United Nations agencies signed a landmark agreement with the government of Myanmar today (6 Jun), which they hope will provide hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees with a pathway to return home, from overcrowded camps across the border in Bangladesh.
The Spokesperson for Secretary-General António Guterres, Stéphane Dujarric, told reporters in New York that the Secretary-General “welcomes the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) reached by the Government of Myanmar, UNHCR, and the UN Development Programme on the UN system’s support to creating conditions conducive to voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable Rohingya refugee returns from Bangladesh, and their reintegration in Rakhine State.”
Since August last year, some 700,000 mainly-Muslim Rohingya have fled Rakhine state, in majority-Buddhist Myanmar, for neighbouring Bangladesh. Most say they were fleeing violence and persecution, including a military campaign by Myanmar forces, which began in response to violent attacks by Rohingya insurgents.
Dujarric said “the Secretary-General encourages Myanmar to take decisive steps to implement the agreement. He also reiterates his call for an end to the violence, accountability for perpetrators, redress for victims, humanitarian access to all in Rakhine State, and the implementation of the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission.”
The MOU, which was officially signed by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and the Government of Myanmar, will give these two UN agencies access to Rakhine State, including to refugees’ places of origin and potential new settlement areas that the UN has so far been unable to access since the violence escalated at the end of last August.
The agreement will also allow UNHCR and UNDP to carry out needs assessments in affected communities and strengthen the capacity of local authorities to support the voluntary repatriation process.
The Advisory Commission on Rakhine State – a neutral and impartial body composed of six local experts and three international experts, chaired by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan – has proposed concrete measures for improving the welfare of all people in Rakhine State.
Its recommendations include establishing a clear and voluntary pathway to citizenship and ensuring freedom of movement for all people there, irrespective of religion, ethnicity or citizenship status.
The Rohingya have not been granted any level of citizenship, or citizenship rights, which is a major impediment to their return home.