CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 16 June 2018

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Rohingya reluctant to return home

MANDALAY (UCAN): “It’s telling that Rohingya aren’t clamouring to return to the places where they recently survived genocidal attacks. The authorities are attempting to distract the world from mass atrocities committed by the army,” Matthew Smith, chief executive of Fortify Rights, said, as it seems that a deal between the Myanmese government and United Nations (UN) agencies has done little to inspire confidence that refugees will agree to be repatriated from Bangladesh.
 
The UN said the agreement would establish a framework for cooperation aimed at creating conditions conducive to the “voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable” repatriation of Rohingya to “their places of origin or of their choosing.”
 
The framework should also help the UH High Commissioner for Refugees and the UN Development Programme to gain access to Rakhine State that has not been permitted since last August.
 
However, Smith said that Myanmar wants the world to think it is doing the right thing without actually making any fundamental changes on the ground.
 
He said the country has to amend its citizenship law to ensure Rohingya have equal access to full citizenship. It should also lift restrictions on freedom of movement.
 
One Rohingya from a village in Maungdaw, northern Rakhine, said the deal was just for show.
 
“For refugees, denying citizenship and access to their land and properties remains a barrier for their return,” he said.
 
Kyaw Min, chairperson of the Yangon-based Democracy and Human Rights Party that represents the Rohingya, said UN involvement is a first step, but he doubts what role its agencies will play.
 
“Citizenship rights, freedom of movement and access to their farms for their livelihood are the wishes of returnees, but the government is not willing to accept Rohingya refugees and grant citizenship,” Min said.
 
More than 700,000 Rohingya fled from Rakhine to Bangladesh following bloody military crackdown last August.
 
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a repatriation deal last November. The process was due to begin in January but Bangladesh postponed it, citing a lack of preparations on its behalf.
 
According to an Xchange Foundation survey, among the 1,700 Rohingya refugees interviewed in Bangladeshi camps, 78 per cent would return to Myanmar if security, welfare and/or the political situation improved, 16 per cent would not under any circumstances, and six per cent would return unconditionally.
 
On May 31, the president’s office of Myanmar said it would establish an independent commission to probe rights violations by the military in northern Rakhine following attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army last August.
 
Yet the government has established half a dozen commissions in recent months and not one has revealed any meaningful investigation into the military’s actions.
 
Min said the previous commissions had not produced any results. “(Aung San) Suu Kyi has no dialogue with Rohingya, so how can we tackle the problem?” he asked.
 
Smith said, “The government has demonstrated that it’s unwilling and unable to properly investigate and prosecute the atrocities that have happened and the international justice system was created precisely in response to such situations.”

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