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Myanmar not ready for Rohingya refugees to return: UN official

Rohingya woman
A UN official says after a six-day visit to Myanmar that the country is not ready for Rohingya Muslim refugees for repatriation. Photo: AP
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Myanmar is not ready for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees, says the most senior United Nations official to visit the country this year.

“From what I’ve seen and heard from people – no access to health services, concerns about protection, continued displacements – conditions are not conducive to return,” Ursula Mueller, UN’s Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said after a six-day visit to Myanmar.

The Myanmar government has pledged to do its best to make sure repatriation under an agreement signed with Bangladesh in November would be “fair, dignified and safe”.

Myanmar has so far verified several hundred Rohingya Muslim refugees for possible repatriation. The group would be “the first batch” of refugees and could come back to Myanmar “when it was convenient for them,” a Myanmar official said last month.

Ms Mueller was granted rare access in Myanmar, allowed to visit the most affected areas in Rakhine state, and met army-controlled ministers of defence and border affairs, as well as de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian officials.

The exodus of Rohingya Muslims followed an August 25 crackdown by the military in the north-western Rakhine state. Rohingya refugees reported killings, burnings, looting and rape, in response to militant attacks on security forces.

“I asked (Myanmar officials) to end the violence … and that the return of the refugees from (Bangladeshi refugee camps in) Cox’s Bazar is to be on a voluntary, dignified way, when solutions are durable,” Ms Mueller said in Myanmar’s largest city Yangon.

Myanmar says its forces have been engaged in a legitimate campaign against Muslim “terrorists”.