A top U.N. official has said that international community cannot be silent in the face of suffering of persecuted Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and Bangladesh. "[We cannot ignore] the suffering faced by the [Rohingya] refugees currently sheltering in Bangladesh," said Henrietta Fore, executive director of UNICEF, at a forum late Monday in Myanmar's capital, Naypyitaw, as reported by Anadolu Agency (AA).
"We must work together to find a peaceful future for all," added Fore, the first top UNICEF official to have visited Myanmar in 30 years.
The UNICEF chief asked Myanmar to take steps to "rebuild the trust that is fundamental to every society." "But reconciliation must follow accountability," she said, referring to persecution of Rohingya in Myanmar's Rakhine state over the years.
An estimated 700,000 Rohingya have fled over the border to Bangladesh since an army crackdown was launched in Rakhine State in August. Myanmar blames Rohingya militants for an Aug. 25 strike on security posts in Rakhine State that triggered a fierce army crackdown. At least 9,000 Rohingya were killed in Rakhine State from Aug. 25 to Sept. 24, according to Doctors without Borders.
Calling for creating a safe environment for return of Rohingya from Bangladesh, Fore said that implementing the recommendations "will also go a long way toward creating the right conditions" for the return of the refugees from Bangladesh. "We know, from the UNICEF teams working there, that the children in these camps are living a precarious and almost hopeless existence," she said. "We urge that the necessary steps are taken to enable their safe, voluntary and dignified return back to their homes, where their rights are respected and they can once again live peaceably with their neighbors."
Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed to begin the repatriation process last year with 150 people every day in the first phase, as per an agreement signed between their governments in the capitals of Dhaka and Naypyidaw in November 2017. However, rights groups urged Bangladesh to halt imminent plans to start returning Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, warning doing so risked further grave violations against the Muslim minority.
The stateless Rohingya have been the target of communal violence and vicious anti-Muslim sentiment in mainly Buddhist Myanmar for years. Myanmar has denied citizenship to Rohingya since 1982 and excludes them from the 135 ethnic groups it officially recognizes, which effectively renders them stateless. The Rohingya trace their presence in Rakhine back centuries. But most people in majority-Buddhist Myanmar consider them to be unwanted Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh.