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UNHCR prepared to discuss return arrangement, outlines preconditions for Rohingya refugees returns

Briefing notes

UNHCR prepared to discuss return arrangement, outlines preconditions for Rohingya refugees returns

8 December 2017
Bangladesh. General views of Kutupalong refugee camp and surrounding areas
Rohingya refugees make their way to their new homes with essential supplies given to him by UNHCR from a distribution centre in Kutupalong camp.

On 23rd November, Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement on the voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees. Initial discussions between UNHCR and the Bangladeshi authorities over anticipated arrangements have yet to happen, but currently we are working towards this. As we have stated previously, all refugees have the right to return, but this should happen voluntarily and only when people feel the time and circumstances are right.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, was not a party to the agreement but it is referenced in the document text. The arrangement refers to the establishing of a Joint Working Group within three weeks of the signing (i.e. by 14 December 2017). We are ready to be part of this group and to help the two governments work towards arrangements that would properly enable refugees to exercise their right to return – freely, safely and in dignity. This should, in our view, include a tripartite voluntary repatriation agreement.

Based on the text of the agreement, we are encouraged that the two governments have agreed to work for a “comprehensive and durable” solution; to refrain from conceiving and implementing any discriminatory policy that violates universally agreed principles of human rights; and that Myanmar is confirming its commitments to implement the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. These include social-economic development, citizenship, freedom of movement, communal participation and representation, inter-communal cohesion and security of all communities. Their implementation will be critical not only to create an environment conducive to returns in safety and in dignity, but also to ensuring sustainability.

At present refugees are still arriving in Bangladesh. Restoring peace and stability, ensuring full humanitarian access as well as addressing of the root causes of displacement are important pre-conditions to ensuring that returns are aligned with international standards.

Many Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh before and after 25 August have suffered severe violence and trauma. Some have lost family members, relatives, and friends. Many of their homes and villages have been torched and destroyed. Deep divisions between communities remain unaddressed and humanitarian access is inadequate. It is critical that the returns are not rushed or premature.

Refugees will need accurate information about the conditions in the areas of origin. Ultimately, their decision about their future must be their own well-informed choice.

We will continue our discussions on the details of the Arrangement with both governments in the coming weeks and months. These discussions should also bring clarity on UNHCR’s role in the voluntary returns process and address the most pressing challenges to the arrangement, including its scope, timeframe, and eligibility criteria.

UNHCR is prepared to help both governments work towards a solution for the Rohingya refugees currently in Bangladesh that meets international refugee and human rights standards, and, crucially, ensures that the voices of refugees are represented throughout this process.

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