Calling Bangladesh and Myanmar for a tripartite repatriation agreement, the UNHCR yesterday said all refugees have the right to return and this should happen voluntarily and only when people feel the time and circumstances are right.
The UN refugee agency also said it is ready to help the two governments to enable refugees to exercise their right to return.
The UNHCR was not a party to the voluntary repatriation agreement signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar on November 23.
The deal refers to forming of a joint working group within three weeks of its signing -- by Dec 14 -- as well as start of the repatriation in two months.
“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,” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards said during a press briefing in Geneva yesterday.
The UNHCR has not been formally invited to join the working group yet, but it is referenced in the agreement text.
“UNHCR and other mandated UN agencies as well as interested international partners would be invited to take part, as appropriate, in various stages of return and resettlement, and to assist returnees to carry on life and livelihood as members of Myanmar society,” reads the document.
Adrian Edwards said initial discussions between the UNHCR and the Bangladeshi authorities over anticipated arrangements have yet to happen, but currently they are working towards this.
Based on the text of the agreement, the spokesperson said, “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, Edwards added.
“Their implementation will be critical not only to create an environment conducive to returns in safety and in dignity, but also to ensuring sustainability.”
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, said the spokesperson.
Some 20,000 Rohingyas crossed over from Myanmar to Bangladesh in November, and at least 270 so far in December, bringing the total since violence erupted on August 25 to 646,000, according to the UNHCR and International Organisation of Migration (IOM).
Edwards said many Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh before and after August 25 have suffered severe violence and trauma.
Some have lost family members, relatives and friends while homes and villages of many have been torched and destroyed.
The official observed that deep divisions between communities remain unaddressed and humanitarian access is inadequate. "It is critical that the returns are not rushed or premature," he said.
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,” Edwards said.