Myanmar authorities are in talks with officials in Rakhine state to shut down four more internally displaced persons camps housing Rohingya refugees in two townships, though where the camp inhabitants will be resettled is still unclear, a government official said Friday.
Aung Thurein, director of Myanmar’s Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief, and Resettlement, said the IDPs have asked authorities to return them to their former places of residence in Sittwe and Kyaukphyu townships.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya moved into the IDP camps in 2012, when waves of clashes between Rakhine Buddhists and Muslims in the ethnically and religiously divided state left more than 200 people dead and displaced about 140,000 Muslims.
Aung Thurein said it is difficult to close down the IDP camps in Rakhine because authorities must hold discussions and negotiate with all stakeholders.
“We are still discussing and negotiating [with locals and authorities] to shut down the Thetkaepyin IDP camp, Khaung Doke Khar IDP camps [No. 1 and No. 2] in Sittwe township, and the Kyauktalone IDP camp in Kyaukphyu township,” he said.
“We haven’t built houses for these IDPs yet because we are still in the discussion process,” he said.
Authorities have finished building houses for the Rohingya inhabitants of 85 households who lived at the Nidin IDP camp in Kyauktaw township, Aung Thurein said.
“Because the IDPs moved into the new houses a few days ago, the Nidin IDP camp is going to be shut down soon,” he said.
About 600 houses are being built for the Rohingya IDPs in Rakhine’s Myebon township, 100 of which are finished, he said.
“Some people from the Myebon IDP camp where 3,000 IDPs are living have already moved into these100 houses,” he said.
In April, Aung Thurein told RFA’s Myanmar Service that plans were in the works to resettle IDPs living in Kyauktalone camp in new homes, but that they were in a very early stage where authorities were still looking for suitable land on which to build.
He also said that discussions about closing the Thetkaepyin camp had ended, though no work had started there, and that authorities were holding discussions about new housing with supervisors and residents of Kaung Doke Khar No. 1 and No. 2 camps.
More than 128,400 IDPs were still living in 23 IDP sites in Rakhine state, including camps and with host families, at the end of 2017, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
More than one million other refugees, most of whom fled military crackdowns in northern Rakhine in 2016 and 2017, live in displacement camps in southeastern Bangladesh.
Aung Thurein is also director of the Rakhine State Advisory Commission’s Recommendations Implementation Committee, a Myanmar government committee created in September 2017 to implement the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State.
Led by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, the advisory commission proposed ways to solve sectarian tensions between Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in the state, although it did not evaluate possible human rights violations.
The commission’s report called for the closure of IDP camps and for reviews of Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law, which prevents the Rohingya from becoming citizens, and an end to restrictions on Rohingya to preclude further violence in the region.
Myanmar views the Rohingya as illegal aliens from Bangladesh, subjects them to systematic discrimination, limits their movements, and denies them access to jobs, health care, and education.
In April 2017, authorities said they were shuttering three IDP camps that housed Kaman Muslims and ethnic Rakhine people, as recommended by the Annan commission.
Myanmar has agreed to repatriate some of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees living in the sprawling camps in Bangladesh and has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the U.N.’s development and refugee agencies to assist with the voluntary return of displaced persons verified as eligible for repatriation.
The U.N., which has said that the 2017 military campaign against the Rohingya amounted to ethnic cleansing, has raised concerns along with rights groups about the safety of the refugees who will return to Rakhine.
Rohingya leaders reject MoU
Britain’s The Guardian reported on Friday that Rohingya community leaders have rejected Myanmar’s agreement with the U.N. agencies, arguing that it does not address their concerns and will not help in the repatriation of refugees.
Though details of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) have not been made public, they have been leaked online.
Ko Ko Lim, a Bangladesh-based Rohingya political activist, told the newspaper that the parties who signed the agreement did not consult the Rohingya community prior to making the arrangement.
“In the agreement there is no commitment from the Burmese government to fulfill our key demands as a precondition for our safe return to our homes,” he is quoted as saying. “It is against the interest of the Rohingya.”
“We have long been seeking a guarantee from the Burmese government of restoration of our citizenship rights before we return,” he said. “But they have skirted this issue of citizenship in the MoU, to our disappointment. The plan to repatriate the Rohingya will never meet with any success if the government does not accept this key demand.”
The report also quotes Tun Khin, president of Burmese Rohingya Organization UK, who also took Myanmar and the U.N. agencies to task for not consulting the community on citizenship rights and the rebuilding of homes before signing the agreement.
“Our community members are extremely angry and disappointed to know of the details of the MoU, after it has leaked,” he said. “They are also angry because the Burmese government did not make the details of the agreement public.”
Meanwhile, the Asian Development Bank on Friday approved a U.S. $100 million grant to Bangladesh for basic infrastructure and services for the Rohingya refugees living in camps, Reuters reported.
The funds will be used for improvements to camp roads that connect food storage and distribution centers, hospitals, and schools, emergency access, and shelters, landslide protection barriers, and storm water drains to handle excessive rain from monsoons, the report said.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.