Red Cross warns of ‘serious problems’ with return of Rohingya refugees

First information commission meeting since exodus from Myanmar opens gives little ground on how camps will operate

The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Sunday it had “serious problems” with plans to relocate people from Myanmar’s Rakhine state to an island in the Bay of Bengal.

Around 600,000 people from Myanmar’s Rakhine state crossed into Bangladesh to escape violence in 2012, and those refugees mainly took shelter on the territory of the nearby district of Cox’s Bazar.

Bangladesh’s latest influx of new refugees began after insurgents attacked 30 police posts on 25 August, prompting a military crackdown in Myanmar.

Myanmar says the operation is meant to root out Rohingya “Bengalis”, who it says are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

“The ICRC is concerned about the very serious issues relating to continuity of services at the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps and movements in and out of the area,” the organisation said in a statement after the first meeting of the country’s first information commission since the exodus began.

Half of Rakhine’s Rohingya villages ‘completely destroyed’, UN says Read more

The commission has been set up to coordinate the country’s response to the largest influx of refugees since the break-up of Bangladesh in 1971.

A few dozen activists at the meeting said the refugees were still resisting the government’s plan to resettle them on the offshore island of Buthidaung and 50 miles (80km) west of the Bangladesh border, Reuters reported.

The Bangladesh Foreign Minister, Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, told the meeting that he wanted everyone who fled to return.

Myanmar’s Information Minister, Zaw Htay, told the session that the government was looking at all options for “simplifying the refugees’ lives”. He said Cox’s Bazar remained the preferred option for repatriation but that there were many people who wanted to return.

Bangladesh said last week its government did not yet have the authority to start repatriating Rohingya refugees because it had no citizenship documents for some people and insufficient evidence to proceed with the return of others.

The UN’s top human rights official last week sharply criticised Bangladesh for allegedly destroying the villages of Rohingya in Rakhine, claiming it amounted to ethnic cleansing.

Myanmar insists its security forces have done nothing wrong, and has spoken about the need to tackle “terrorism”, which the government term for Rohingya.

Many Bangladeshis, however, fear accepting thousands of additional refugees would put their own communities under threat.

Survivors have alleged murder, rape and arson in Myanmar by the army and Buddhist vigilante groups during the crackdown that followed the Aug. 25 attacks.

The UN and rights groups say the army’s campaign of mass killings and gang rapes carried out with “genocidal intent” amounts to crimes against humanity.

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