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Top UN official says it’s ‘not safe’ for Rohingya refugees to return to Myanmar

TOP UN human rights official Andrew Gilmour said today that it is impossible to safely send Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh back to their homes in Myanmar because widespread and systematic violence appears to be continuing against them there, amounting to “ethnic cleansing.”

The UN assistant-secretary-general said that during a four-day visit to Bangladesh, refugees told him “credible accounts of continued killings, rape, torture and abductions as well as forced starvation” in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine.

“Safe, dignified and sustainable returns are of course impossible under current conditions,” Mr Gilmour said.

Some 700,000 Muslim Rohingya have fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar to Bangladesh since late August, when Myanmar security forces began sweeps through Rakhine after attacks by a Rohingya insurgent group.

There are credible accounts of widespread rights abuses, including rape, the torching of homes and killings, carried out against the Rohingya, leading to accusations that Myanmar is guilty of “ethnic cleansing” or even genocide.

Mr Gilmour said the rate of killings and sexual violence in Rakhine has subsided since August and September — but “it appears that widespread and systematic violence against the Rohingya persists.”

“The nature of the violence has changed from the frenzied bloodletting and mass rape of last year to a lower-intensity campaign of terror and forced starvation that seems to be designed to drive the remaining Rohingya from their homes and into Bangladesh,” he said.

Myanmar’s government has built two reception camps and a transition camp for Rohingya refugees in northern Rakhine, but Mr Gilmour says it is unsafe now to repatriate the Rohingya.

“The conversation now must focus on stopping the violence in Rakhine state, ensuring accountability for the perpetrators, and the need for Myanmar to create conditions for return,” he said.

Myanmar’s government spokesman did not answer repeated calls for comment on Mr Gilmour’s statement.

Last week, Myanmar’s army deployed additional troops to the border with Bangladesh with the apparent aim of driving about 6,000 Rohingya refugees staying in a no-man’s land into Bangladeshi territory.

Myanmar denies the Rohingya citizenship and falsely claims that they are all immigrants from Bangladesh.


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