Though UNHCR was not party to the negotiations leading to the signing of Rohingya repatriation instrument, it wants to advise both Bangladesh and Myanmar governments on its practical application going forward, says a senior UN official on Thursday.
“Implementation of (these) commitments would require an international presence and monitoring in areas of return – key to ensuring sustainability and preventing further waves of displacement,” UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner Kelly Clements told reporters at a press conference.
She said UNHCR is encouraged by the references in the bilateral arrangement that would improve conditions in Myanmar and give rights to returning refugees.
“We note the commitment to restore normalcy and human rights in Rakhine state; for refugee returns to comply with international standards of safety, dignity and voluntariness; and to commence a process to address root causes in line with the Rakhine Advisory Commission recommendations,” said the UN refugee agency official.
Against complex background of suffering, hardship, hope, and solidarity, UNHCR noted the signing of the bilateral instrument between Bangladesh and Myanmar on the returns of Rohingyas from Myanmar.
“It is also positive that there is a role envisioned for UNHCR in the process. This is critical to ensuring the monitoring of the free and informed choice of refugees to return, eventually their favourable protection environment back home, and the overall credibility of any returns programme,” she said.
The UNHCR official said at present, conditions in Myanmar’s Rakhine State are not in place to enable safe and sustainable returns. “Refugees are still fleeing. Those who arrive have suffered immense violence and trauma in Myanmar. Some have witnessed the deaths of family members and friends.”
“We look forward to continuing our discussions on the details of the Arrangement with both governments in the coming weeks and months – especially with regard to some of the challenges linked to the extent of UNHCR’s role in the process, the scope, timeframe, and eligibility criteria that the arrangement sets out,” she said.
Clements said UNHCR stands ready to help both governments work towards a solution for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh that meets international refugee and human rights standards, and ensures that the voices of refugees are represented.
More than 100 days on, the refugee emergency in Bangladesh is the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world. Rohingya refugees continue to arrive in Bangladesh, with an estimated 1,500 new arrivals in just the last week.
UNHCR commended the government and the people of Bangladesh for their extraordinary generosity and remains deeply committed to supporting the joint emergency response.
“Bangladesh’s compassionate open border policy has saved hundreds of thousands of refugees’ lives,” Clements said.
She said UNHCR continues to work closely with the Government of Bangladesh, UN and NGO partners, local communities, and refugees themselves to meet the overwhelming needs of hundreds of thousands of refugees.
UNHCR’s emergency response so far has included the deployment of some 200 additional staff, the airlift of 1,500 metric tons of aid into Bangladesh, and the provision of vital assistance, services, and protection.
Despite the best efforts of the collective response, Clements said there is still much more to be done to meet the acute needs of many traumatized children, women, and men.
“UNHCR’s priority remains on continuing to strengthen its response, in partnership with others, to ensure those needs are met,” she said.