YANGON (Reuters) – Safety and “identity” need to be in place for Rohingya Muslim refugees who return to Myanmar, the head of the United Nations in the country said on Wednesday, as Myanmar and U.N. agencies signed an outline deal on returns.
The signing of a memorandum of understanding between the government and U.N. development and refugee agencies – the UNDP and the UNHCR – marks a warming of ties which hit a low point last year after the government suggested some agencies provided food to Rohingya militants.
The head of the United Nations in Myanmar, Knut Ostby, said he hoped U.N. staff would be able to travel to the violence-ravaged north of Rakhine State “almost immediately” to assess the situation and – over time – to help the refugees in Bangladesh make an informed decision about potential returns.
Since August, about 700,000 Rohingya have fled an army crackdown in Myanmar, many reporting killings, rape and arson on a large scale. The United Nations has called the campaign a textbook example of “ethnic cleansing” – a charge Myanmar denies.
U.N. officials have said for months the conditions in Myanmar were “not conducive” to returns which would be safe, voluntary and dignified and view Wednesday’s deal as a first step toward meeting those objectives.