MAUNGDAW (Myanmar) • The United Nations yesterday called on Myanmar to give aid agencies unhindered access to camps it has built for tens of thousands of Muslim Rohingya refugees before they can return after fleeing Myanmar military operations last year.
An international delegation advising Myanmar toured the Taung Pyo Letwe refugee camp outside the town of Maungdaw, near the Bangladesh border. Video of the camp shows long, plywood houses set on a rocky field and surrounded by a fence topped with barbed wire.
Bangladesh on Tuesday delayed the repatriation of the largely stateless Rohingya to Myanmar as the process of compiling and verifying the list of people to be sent back was incomplete.
But the United Nations said necessary safeguards for the refugees were still missing. "Until the safety and well-being of any child returning to Myanmar can be guaranteed, talk of repatriation is premature," Unicef deputy executive director Justin Forsyth said in a statement.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR said earlier "there are continued restrictions on access for aid agencies, the media and other independent observers" in Myanmar.
It called on Myanmar "to allow the necessary unhindered humanitarian access in Rakhine state and create conditions for a genuine and lasting solution".
More than 688,000 Muslim Rohingya and a few hundred Hindu Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since Aug 25 last year after the Myanmar military cracked down in the northern part of Rakhine state.
Many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar regard the Rohingya community as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Myanmar officials told a news conference on Tuesday that Bangladesh was not ready to send back the refugees as scheduled because the potential returnees had not completed the forms Myanmar provided attesting to their former residency in Myanmar.
"They also have to check with the UNHCR about whether it is voluntary," Minister of International Cooperation Kyaw Tin told reporters.
Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed earlier this month to complete a voluntary repatriation of the refugees in two years. Myanmar said it has set up two reception centres and the temporary Taung Pyo Letwe camp to receive the first arrivals.
The plan has sparked fears in refugee camps in Bangladesh that people may be forced to return despite a lack of guarantees around their security.