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UN will not aid Myanmar with long-term camps for returning Rohingya Muslims

A confidential briefing paper circulated within the UNHRC revealed that the United Nations is not willing to provide humanitarian assistance to the returning Rohingya Muslims, if they are interned in camps. 

Instead, the UN has said it will only support resettlement on the condition that returnees are resettled into the “places of refugees’ origin or choice”. 

The UN “will not provide individual assistance in situations of encampment, including in reception facilities or transit camps, unless they are clearly temporary in nature and used for the sole purpose of facilitating free movement to places of returnees’ origin or choice," the paper, which was given to diplomats and other agencies as they were advised not to aid such camps, read. 

The news comes as Myanmar announced plans to build housing in 42 sites across Rakhine. 

The circulated document also outlines a serious risk posed to the returning population and stresses the need for returnees to return of their own accord.

Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed in late October to start providing repatriation for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled the country last year to escape violence perpetrated by the state army. 

Over 700,000 rohingya citizens fled Rakhine state during this pogrom and UN investigators has accused the military of harbouring “genocidal intent”.

Myanmar has denied these claims and defended their army’s action stating they were fighting terrorism. International aid organisations as well as the UN has stated it is unsafe for the muslim population to return.

Myanmar claims that the camps will provide temporary shelter for those returning before transitioning to more stable housing, but many Rohingya fear that these camps will become permanent and may restrict their movement.

UN backed camps have existed in Myanmar since 2012, when tens of thousands of Rohingya were forced into exile during a previous pogrom. 

The camps established were in poor condition and residents were forbidden to leave whilst also stating that they would only be here temporarily. This violates international law leading the US State Department to demand the those returning “have freedom of movement and not be confined to camps”.

Reuters notes that returnees would be permit to travel within Maungdaw town on the condition that they carried National Verification Cards, a situation which has faced a harsh backlash from the Rohingya community who view this form of identification as labelling them as foreigners. 

Speaking on this issue the UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Volker Turk, said, “I think we are still not at that stage where the conditions are there that we would be able to facilitate or promote returns at this point in time […] if there are indeed people who want to return, we have to absolutely make sure that we are able to certify that they do this on (the basis of) a free and informed choice.”

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