In a significant development, Myanmar and two UN agencies have signed a memorandum of Understanding (MOU) today aimed at establishing a framework for the return of Rohingya refugees currently sheltered in makeshift camps in neighbouring Bangladesh. The agreement could pave the way for the return and repatriation of about 700,000 Rohingyas who have taken shelter in Bangladesh following counter-terrorism measures in the wake of coordinated attacks on 30 police stations and military base by the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army (ARSA) on 25 August in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
The agreement was signed at Nay Pyi Taw between United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.
This MoU is a significant first step to establish a framework for cooperation between the UN and the Government of Myanmar aimed at creating conducive conditions to facilitate the return and repatriation of the Rohingya refugees.
An official press statement from the government of Myanmar stated that “the MOU is expected to enhance the work already undertaken by the Government of Myanmar since last year for the voluntary, safe and dignified repatriation of the displaced persons. It is hoped that with the UN’s involvement, the repatriation process will hasten”.
Paul Vrieze, UNHCR-Myanmar spokesman, told The Myanmar Times that the MOU establishes a framework for cooperation aimed at creating the conditions conducive to the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable repatriation of refugees to their places of origin or of their choosing.”
Amidst allegations of gross violations of human rights from international humanitarian agencies, including the UN, Myanmar has argued that the military operation was aimed at rooting out ARSA militants.
Myanmar has refused to allow a fact-finding mission set up by the UN Human Rights Council to enter the country and has barred UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee. Earlier this week, the UN Security Council has urged Myanmar to cooperate with UN experts to investigate allegations of atrocities against the Rohingya community.
It is expected that the MOU signed between Myanmar and the UN agencies would provide the UN’s refugee and development agencies access to the refugees in Rakhine state.
According to U Win Myat Aye, Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, the repatriation of refugees who fled to Bangladesh since August last year will move faster after the MoU is signed.