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More pressure needed on Myanmar to take back Rohingya: Bangladeshi PM

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

By Fanny Potkin 
April 17, 2018

LONDON -- Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said on Tuesday more international pressure was needed on Myanmar to take back Rohingya refugees, rejecting claims by the Myanmar government the repatriation process had already started.

“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. 

“Myanmar says they are ready to take back the Rohingya, but they are not taking the initiative.” 

U.N. officials say nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh from Rakhine to escape a military crackdown since August last year, amid reports of murder, rape and arson by Myanmar troops and Buddhist vigilantes in actions which the United Nations has likened to “ethnic cleansing”. 

Myanmar has denied nearly all allegations, saying it has been waging a legitimate counter-insurgency operation. 

Hasina said Bangladesh had submitted the names of 8,000 Rohingya families for repatriation to Myanmar, but that Myanmar had so far refused to take them back.

She disputed a claim by Myanmar that it had repatriated five members of a Rohingya family from Bangladesh, describing them as having been living in the no man’s land between the two countries. 

“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 (Rohingya) families, but they’ve not taken them back,” she said. 

In a statement on Saturday, Myanmar said it had repatriated the first Rohingya family from among refugees who have fled to Bangladesh. It said a family of five had returned to one of its reception centers in Rakhine state. 

The Bangladeshi government and the U.N. refugee agency told Reuters neither had any involvement in the repatriation. 

Hasina also confirmed a plan to move 100,000 Rohingya refugees to a uninhabited low-lying island in the Bay of Bengal and dismissed fears this would be put them at risk of floods. 

“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. Where they are living now, the monsoon season is coming up, there can be land erosions, accidents are taking place.” 

However, aid agencies are fearful of the relocation plan and believe it would expose Rohingya refugees to cyclones, floods and human traffickers. 

Reporting by Fanny Potkin; editing by Stephen Addison and Mark Heinrich

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