UN reaches deal with Myanmar to repatriate Rohingya refugees

Hundreds of thousands stranded in Bangladesh

By BEN WESTCOTT, PAULINE LOCKWOOD AND JONNY HALLAM, CNN
Sophia Saifi via CNN

(CNN) - Myanmar and the United Nations have reached a deal to work together to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have fled violence in the country in the past year.

In a statement Thursday, the UN said the agreement aims to create the conditions required for the "voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable" return of Rohinyga to their former homes or wherever they choose.

Under the deal, which is expected to be signed next week, United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), will be given access to Rakhine State in western Myanmar for the first time since violence broke out last August.

About 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled across the border to refugee camps in Bangladesh since the military crackdown in Rakhine State last August. The Myanmar military originally said it was undertaking clearance operations in the state following an attack by Rohingya militants which killed 12 security officers on August 25.

However, refugees who escaped told of entire villages being burned, women raped and locals killed. The Rohingya are one of the most persecuted peoples in the world. The predominantly Buddhist Myanmar considers them Bangladeshi but Bangladesh says they're Burmese. As a result, they're effectively stateless.

Yanghee Lee, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, has described the events in Rakhine State as "genocide."

"I am becoming more convinced that the crimes committed following 9 October 2016 and 25 August 2017 bear the hallmarks of genocide and call in the strongest terms for accountability," said Lee said in March.

The United Nations said in its statement Thursday that UN representatives would be allowed into Rakhine State to "assess the conditions on the ground and carry out protection activities."

A statement from the Myanmar Ministry of the Office of the State Counsellor on Thursday said the UN had been invited to take part "in various stages of return and resettlement."

When a deal between Myanmar and Bangladesh to resettle Rohingya who chose to return was first announced in November 2017, it was greeted with speculation and concern from international observers and refugees.

Out of the hundreds of thousands of people stranded in Bangladeshi refugee camps, only 8,032 names were submitted by Dhaka to Myanmar to consider for repatriation earlier this year.

In April the UNHCR cast doubt on the Myanmar government's announcement that it had repatriated the first Rohingya family, saying the UN had not been involved with the case and had no knowledge of it.

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