Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has called for more international pressure on Myanmar to take back Rohingya refugees, rejecting an assertion by Myanmar that it has repatriated the first Rohingya family of five.
“The international community needs to put more pressure on Myanmar so that they take back their own people and ensure their security,” she told an audience in London on Tuesday, reports Reuters.
“Myanmar says they are ready to take back the Rohingya, but they are not taking the initiative,” said Hasina, who is in London to attend the Commonwealth Summit.
Also on Tuesday, Canada and Britain called for a meaningful investigation into reported atrocities by the Myanmar army.
Meanwhile, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Mueller said over 400,000 Rohingya who are still living in Myanmar's Rakhine state continue to face hardship and marginalisation due to restrictions. Mueller visited Myanmar last week.
Nearly 700,000 mostly Muslim Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh from Rakhine to escape a military crackdown since August, amid reports of murder, rape and arson by Myanmar troops and Buddhist vigilantes in actions which the United Nations has likened to “ethnic cleansing”.
Amid global pressure, Myanmar signed a bilateral repatriation deal with Bangladesh in November last year, but has not yet repatriated any refugees from Bangladesh.
Five Rohingya, who had been living on the no-man's land between the borders of Bangladesh and Myanmar, crossed the border to Myanmar in the early hours of April 14.
Myanmar immediately issued a statement, including photos, claiming it was the first family repatriated to Myanmar, an event rights activists and international relations experts called a public relations stunt by Myanmar.
Referring to the five Rohingya, who went back to Myanmar from the no-man's land, Hasina said they were living in the borderlands, with some of their family members in their camps.
“Maybe [Myanmar] wants to show the world they are taking them back. It's a good sign. If they want, then why only one family? We have already submitted the names of 8,000 families, but they've not taken them back,” she said.
Hasina also confirmed a plan to move 100,000 Rohingya refugees to an uninhabited low-lying island in the Bay of Bengal, dismissing fears that it would put them at the mercy of floods.
“We are expecting to move those who are in a vulnerable place to the island. Bangladesh can always be flooding and it does. The camps are very unhealthy. We have prepared a better place for them to live, with houses and shelters where they can earn a living,” she said.
Speaking at a roundtable on the humanitarian crisis in London, British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said, "The Burmese authorities need to demonstrate that they are serious about the safety and security of the Rohingya."
"A credible independent investigation into reported atrocities is an important step in the process," said Johnson in a statement, reports CBC News.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said, "We also need to work together to hold perpetrators of violence to account.”
The international community must reaffirm its support for those affected by the crisis, she added.
Tuesday's meeting of Commonwealth foreign ministers came as a coalition of thirty humanitarian and human rights groups came together in Ottawa to urge the federal government to act on a recent report by its own special envoy to Myanmar, Bob Rae.
Rae's report, issued earlier this month, called on the federal government to develop a multi-year plan to assist the Rohingya refugees who have fled violence in their homeland and now live in camps in Bangladesh.
The federal government is expected to issue an official response to the report in the coming weeks.
Human rights groups meeting this week in Ottawa said Canada must focus on the immediate needs of the Rohingya people while pursuing the longer-term goal of holding to account those responsible for crimes and atrocities.
"I think that the gathering and preservation of evidence is critical and that Canada can play a really important role, right now, to lay the groundwork for that," said Farida Deif, Canada director for Human Rights Watch.
Ursula Mueller, also UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, said over 400,000 Rohingya in Rakhine continued to face hardship and marginalisation due to movement restrictions that severely compromise their rights to health, livelihoods, protection, education and other essential services.
In a media briefing at the UN in New York yesterday, she said she visited camps where 130,000 people, mostly Rohingya, remained confined. Their conditions are deplorable even after six years of displacement.
Ursula Mueller said she was concerned by the continuous restrictions faced by humanitarian workers, the issue that she raised during her meeting with Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other ministers.
“When you cut the humanitarian lifeline, there is a very real human impact,” Mueller said.
She suggested improving the living conditions of the Muslim people, which would send signals to the refugees in Bangladesh for a decision on voluntary return.