A speedy, safe and sustainable return of the Rohingya refugees sheltered in Bangladesh is in the interest of the region, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday said when he met Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.
Meanwhile, the UN chief yesterday urged Myanmar to ensure the safe return of the refugees driven out by army operations -- a plea made in front of Aung San Suu Kyi more than two years since her country cracked down on the Muslim minority, reports AFP.
Modi conveyed his message to Suu Kyi during a bilateral meeting on the margins of the Asean-India Summit in Bangkok.
“Modi emphasised on the fact that the speedy, safe and sustainable return from Bangladesh of the displaced people to their homes in the Rakhine state was in the interest of the region, the displaced persons, and all three neighbouring states -- India, Bangladesh and Myanmar,” according to a statement issued by the Indian Prime Minister’s Office yesterday evening.
Over a million Rohingyas, who escaped atrocities in Myanmar, have been sheltered in Bangladesh for more than two years.
With regards to the situation in Rakhine, following the completion of the first Indian project to build 250 prefabricated houses, which were handed over to the Myanmar government this July, Modi expressed India’s readiness to carry out more socio-economic projects in the Myanmar province.
Speaking at a summit of Southeast Asian leaders in Bangkok -- with Myanmar’s de facto head Suu Kyi in the room -- Antonio Guterres said he remains “deeply concerned” about the plight of the Rohingyas, the AFP reported.
Violence in the Rakhine state in 2017 forced more than 740,000 Rohingyas to flee, most seeking refuge in overcrowded camps in neighbouring Bangladesh, in what UN investigators say amounted to genocide.
Myanmar does not recognise Rohingyas as citizens.
The country says it welcomes back those who agree to a bureaucratic status below full citizenship, and if they agree to live under tight guard after their villages were incinerated.
Guterres said Myanmar has the responsibility to “ensure a conducive environment for the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable repatriation of refugees”, the AFP report said.
Suu Kyi sat in the room expressionless as Guterres spoke.
Only a few hundred Rohingyas have returned to Myanmar so far, with many fearing further persecution in the Buddhist-majority country.
The secretary-general also called on Myanmar “to ensure humanitarian actors have full and unfettered access to the areas of return”.
Despite repeated entreaties by the UN and endless criticism by rights groups and world leaders, Myanmar has refused to bend in its approach to the Rohingyas.
Much of Rakhine remains largely closed to aid workers and journalists, who can only visit on tightly controlled, military-chaperoned trips.
It has launched an extensive and increasingly bloody campaign against Rakhine Buddhists, who are also fighting the central state for greater autonomy.
Suu Kyi has come under fire for failing to use her moral force to defend Rohingyas after the 2017 unrest.
The treatment of the minority has shredded her image as an upholder of human rights in the eyes of the Western world.
Myanmar’s army has come under fire for covering up the crackdown, which it blamed on Rohingya “terrorists”.
A leaked Asean report earlier this year said the repatriation effort could take a further two years, the AFP report said.
Suu Kyi has faced pressure over her country’s treatment of Rohingyas from fellow Asean members -- Malaysia and Indonesia, which are both Muslim-majority countries.