The UN refugee agency helped Myanmar junta officials travel to Bangladesh this week for repatriation talks with Rohingya refugees, two UN officials told AFP, despite claiming conditions in the country were unsafe for their return.
Bangladesh is home to around a million Rohingya, most of whom fled neighboring Myanmar after a military crackdown in 2017 and are now the subject of a UN genocide investigation.
On Wednesday, a 17-strong team led by a senior official from Myanmar’s Ministry of Immigration arrived in the border town of Teknaf to interview migrants for possible repatriation to Myanmar.
A UNHCR spokesman in Myanmar told AFP on Thursday that UNHCR had “facilitated the transport of some officials” from Myanmar to Bangladesh “in support of interaction between the de facto authorities in Myanmar and refugees.”
Transportation was facilitated by both UNHCR and the World Food Program in Myanmar, which provided boats for the junta officials’ journey, a senior UN official in Bangladesh told AFP on Friday.
“I can confirm that UNHCR and WFP have provided boats for upcoming junta officials,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
This month, Johannes van der Klaauw, UNHCR representative in Bangladesh, said there was “no prospect of a safe, dignified and sustainable return in the immediate future” for Rohingya wishing to return to Myanmar.
The Rohingya are widely viewed in Myanmar as Bangladeshi invaders, and human rights groups say those still in the country are being denied access to health care and education and need travel permits.
Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, who was chief of the armed forces during the 2017 crackdown, has dismissed the Rohingya identity as “imaginary”.
The UNHCR spokesman said the decision was taken “in the context” of a non-binding memorandum of understanding signed with Myanmar in 2018, which aims to “create the conditions conducive to the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable repatriation of Rohingya refugees.” are”.
UN organizations were not involved in the discussions in Bangladesh, the spokesman said.
The spokesman did not say how many boats were provided or whether members of the Myanmar military, police or security forces were on board the boats.
The UN provided boats for the trip to Bangladesh at the “very strong request” of junta officials and the UN markings were removed before the trip, according to a leaked email from the Myanmar-based UNHCR coordinator, who said AFP was seen.
The UNHCR spokesman did not elaborate on the nature of the junta’s “very firm request” for the boats.
The Myanmar delegation had planned to interview more than 700 Rohingya to assess the suitability of their return to Myanmar, a commission official said.
A Myanmar junta spokesman confirmed to AFP that the trip was taking place but declined to give details.
A return plan agreed by Myanmar and Bangladesh in 2017 has not made significant progress in the years since, partly due to concerns that the Rohingya would not be safe if they returned.
Progress stalled completely during the coronavirus pandemic and after the military overthrew Myanmar’s civilian government in 2021.
|TOI.NEWS Travel||Click here|
Follow and Subscribe to Our YouTube, Instagram and Twitter – Twitter, Youtube and Instagram.
News & Image Credit – Click Here