United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has reiterated that solution to the Rohingya crisis lies in Myanmar and sought significant support for Bangladesh which is severely affected by the crisis.
"As we have repeatedly said, resolving this crisis means finding solutions inside Myanmar. However, while these are pursued, as they must be, significant support will be required in Bangladesh," he said.
Grandi made the remark while making his statement at the United Nations Security Council briefing on Myanmar in New York on Tuesday. He joined from Geneva through videoconferencing.
He said humanitarian action and funding must be sustained, but longer term support will also be required to help the government reinforce the local infrastructure and economy, and ensure access to opportunities for refugees and the communities hosting them.
The UN Refugee Agency chief made it clear that conditions are not yet conducive to the voluntary repatriation of Rohingyas.
"The causes of their flight have not been addressed, and we have yet to see substantive progress on addressing the exclusion and denial of rights that has deepened over the last decades, rooted in their lack of citizenship," Grandi said.
But preserving the right of return and pursuing the conditions that will enable it to be exercised must remain a central priority, he said.
The UNHCR however welcomed the dialogue between the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar on the voluntary repatriation of refugees, and the commitment to international standards on voluntary, safe and dignified return set out in the arrangement agreed between them in November 2017.
In line with his mandate to support governments to pursue solutions for refugees, UNHCR has extended an offer of support to both governments, including by participating in the joint working group established for its implementation.
The framework for return should eventually be defined in a tripartite agreement between the two governments and UNHCR. "Our offer of support remains open."
Grandi said the construction of infrastructure to support the logistics of return should not be confused with the establishment of conditions conducive to voluntary repatriation.
"An end to violence and destruction of property, and granting humanitarian access throughout Rakhine State – as called for by the Secretary-General – are critical, and basic, steps," he said.
The UN Refugee Agency chief said humanitarian access remains extremely restricted and UNHCR has not had access to affected areas of the northern part of Rakhine State, beyond Maungdaw town, since August 2017, and their access in central Rakhine has also been curtailed.
UNHCR presence and access throughout the state are essential to monitor protection conditions, provide independent information to refugees, and accompany returns as and when they take place.
"Refugees must be able to return to a place of their choice, including the location where they previously resided," Grandi said.
He said temporary arrangements should be avoided; as they have seen in Myanmar and elsewhere, they have a tendency to persist for considerably longer than envisaged, and to take on a permanent character.
The recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State are an important blueprint for a peaceful and inclusive future, and hence for the sustainable return of refugees.
Refugees must determine the timing and pace of returns; building their confidence is crucial, said the UNHCR.
There, around 120,000 internally displaced people, mainly Rohingya driven from their homes by inter-communal violence, are now in their sixth year of confined encampment.
Addressing the root causes of the appalling violence and systemic discrimination that has driven hundreds of thousands from their homes repeatedly over decades, and securing solutions to the current crisis, will require substantial support to both Myanmar and Bangladesh, Grandi said.
He said international political engagement, technical expertise and financial resources will be needed on both sides of the border – including for humanitarian and targeted development activities.
The UN Refugee Agency chief said if solutions are successfully pursued, these have the potential to yield significant dividends across the wider region, helping prevent extremism, foster stability, and spur economic development.
It is almost six months, since the current rapid, chaotic outflow of more than 688,000 refugees from Myanmar to Bangladesh began, driven by violence and destruction, following decades of repression and exclusion.
The government and people of Bangladesh continue to receive refugees and to provide them with protection and support.
"For this, they are to be deeply commended. With reports of insecurity continuing, it is critical that the border remains open and that those still fleeing are able to access safety," Grandi said.
The Government, together with highly-skilled national and local organisations, and the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies, with solid donor support, has mounted an impressive response.
"Yet conditions remain overcrowded and precarious for many, including host communities. Disease outbreaks, including diptheria, have been met with decisive action, but remain a significant risk," Grandi said.
The monsoon season will start in March. "We estimate that more than 100,000 refugees are living in areas prone to flooding or landslides. Tens of thousands of particularly vulnerable refugees need to be urgently relocated. Their lives are at grave risk," Grandi said.
The foundations of existing shelters need to be strengthened, bridges built and reinforced and new land found and made ready, he said.