A UN Security Council team visited Rohingya refugees trapped in the no man’s land along the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar Sunday, as it weighs its response to one of the world’s worst refugee crises.
Myanmar has faced intense international pressure since the start of a military campaign in August that has driven some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims over the border into Bangladesh, where refugees have provided harrowing testimony of murder and rape by security forces and local mobs.
The UN delegates will interview refugees in the Bangladeshi camps before traveling to Myanmar and meeting civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been denounced in the West for her failure to speak up for the Rohingya.
The council is urging Myanmar to allow the safe return of the Rohingya and take steps to end the decades of discrimination that the stateless Muslim minority has suffered in the Buddhist-majority country.
Bangladesh refugee commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam told AFP that the UN team — with 26 diplomats from 15 countries — first visited Konarpara camp, where some 6,000 Rohingya have been trapped on bleak scrubland since the bloodshed began last year.
The camp’s Rohingya leader Dil Mohammad said the UNSC delegation met and spoke with some women victims of the violence in Rakhine, as well as community elders.
“We told them that we’re staying here to save our lives. We’re very much eager to go back to our land, provided our security is ensured by the UN,” Mohammad told AFP.
Later, the council will also head to the Kutupalong camp where hundreds of Rohingya staged a protest ahead of the visit, holding banners demanding the restoration of their rights in Myanmar. Police dispersed the protesters peacefully, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.
“We want restoration of our citizenship under Rohingya ethnicity. We want security and return of our confiscated land and properties,” said Rohingya leader Mohibullah, adding that they would present the delegation with 14 conditions for their repatriation to Rakhine.
Myanmar has said the military operation in Rakhine is aimed at rooting out extremists and has rejected nearly all allegations that its security forces committed atrocities in the state.
Led by Kuwait, Britain and Peru, the four-day Security Council visit is expected to include a meeting with Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, as well as a helicopter flight over Rakhine to allow delegates to see the remains of villages torched during the violence.
Kuwait’s Ambassador Mansour al-Otaibi said the visit was not about “naming and shaming” Myanmar, but that “the message will be very clear for them: the international community is following the situation and has great interest in resolving it.”
On Friday, Human Rights Watch called for Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis to be referred to the International Criminal Court.
“The lack of a UN Security Council resolution has left the Myanmar government convinced that it has literally gotten away with mass murder,” HRW executive director Kenneth Roth told reporters in Yangon.