Conditions for Rohingya refugees to safely return to Myanmar from Bangladesh are not in place, the UN said Friday, a day after the two countries announced repatriation would begin in two months.
“UNHCR has not yet seen the details of the agreement,” the UN refugee agency said in a statement, referring to the deal inked Thursday between Myanmar and Bangladesh, where an estimated 620,000 Rohingya refugees are now living in squalor.
“At present, conditions in Myanmar’s Rakhine State are not in place to enable safe and sustainable returns,” UNHCR added.
“Refugees are still fleeing, and many have suffered violence, rape, and deep psychological harm… Most have little or nothing to go back to, their homes and villages destroyed.”
“It is critical that returns do not take place precipitously or prematurely,” the statement said.
Myanmar has faced mounting international criticism over alleged abuses committed against its minority Muslim community since the August launch of a military crackdown in Rakhine state, following a series of attacks blamed on the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army or ARSA.
Impoverished and overcrowded Bangladesh has won international praise for allowing the refugees into the country, but has imposed restrictions on their movements and said it does not want them to stay.
Dhaka said the deal agreed with Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi would see refugees begin returning home in two months.
UNHCR underscored that all returns must include “the informed consent of refugees.”