Outcry over Asean report predicting Rohingya's 'smooth' return to Myanmar

Rohingya refugees celebrating the Eid Al-Fitr festival last Wednesday at a camp near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. The leaked report gives a glowing assessment of Myanmar's efforts to entice the refugees back from Bangladesh, where some 740,000 have tak
Rohingya refugees celebrating the Eid Al-Fitr festival last Wednesday at a camp near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. The leaked report gives a glowing assessment of Myanmar's efforts to entice the refugees back from Bangladesh, where some 740,000 have taken shelter in overcrowded camps.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

YANGON • An Asean report predicting half a million Rohingya refugees will return to Myanmar in two years has left observers incredulous for glossing over army atrocities, ignoring an ongoing civil war in Rakhine state and failing to mention the persecuted Muslim minority by name.

The leaked report, penned by the South-east Asian bloc's Emergency Response and Assessment Team (Asean-ERAT) and seen by Agence France-Presse, is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

It gives a glowing assessment of Myanmar's efforts to entice Rohingya refugees back from Bangladesh, where some 740,000 have taken shelter in fetid, overcrowded camps.

Claiming to root out insurgents, Myanmar's military drove the Rohingya from Rakhine and over the border in a 2017 crackdown, the latest in several waves of persecution. Evidence of widespread murder, rape and arson prompted UN investigators to call for the prosecution of top Myanmar generals for "genocide".

The two countries signed a repatriation deal in November 2017 but, so far, virtually no Rohingya people have volunteered to return out of fear for their safety and rights.

The "Preliminary Needs Assessment for Repatriation in Rakhine State, Myanmar" works on the basis of 500,000 Rohingya returning.

That is the official number of refugees given by Myanmar, well below the figures from Bangladesh and the United Nations.

The word "Rohingya" is not used in the report, which instead refers to the community as "Muslims".

 
 
 
 

It claims that automated, rather than manual, processing of returnees would mean repatriation will be "completed in a little more than two years".

The report praises Myanmar on efforts to ensure "smooth and orderly" returns, echoing the South-east Asian country's view that delays in repatriation are due to bungled paperwork by Bangladeshi officials.

Bangladesh puts the blame for the setback on Myanmar and says no refugees have yet volunteered to return.

Amnesty International said it was "astonishing" that the report failed to mention the military atrocities that drove the Rohingya out, the continued segregation of those who remained or ongoing armed conflict in Rakhine.

"It's ludicrous to think that returns in this context could be safe, voluntary or dignified," said the group's Myanmar researcher Laura Haigh.

An estimated 400,000 Rohingya still live in Rakhine, often in conditions Amnesty has likened to "open-air prisons", languishing in camps or villages for years with scant access to healthcare or education.

The Asean report dismissed the movement restrictions as "short-term inconveniences".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 09, 2019, with the headline 'Outcry over Asean report predicting Rohingya's 'smooth' return to Myanmar'. Print Edition | Subscribe