Despite UN warning, first Rohingya family repatriated from Bangladesh to Myanmar

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The Bangladeshi government and the United Nations refugee agency have disputed Myanmar's claim it had repatriated five members of a Rohingya family, saying neither the government of Bangladesh nor the aid agency had any involvement in any such repatriation.

Bangladesh's refugee commissioner, Mohammad Abul Kalam, told Agence France-Presse the family had been living in a camp erected on a patch of "no man's land" between the two countries. The repatriation process was to begin on January 23. Myanmar says five members of a family arrived at a "repatriation camp" on Saturday, and were provided with supplies and ID cards.

Akhtar Alam and the other four of his family were scrutinized by immigration and health ministry officials and the social welfare, relief and resettlement ministry provided them with "materials such as rice, mosquito netting, blankets, T-shirt, longyis (Burmese sarong) and kitchen utensils", the statement added.

They were also given the national verification card, a form of identification which...

It said that the family was staying temporarily with relatives in Maungdaw town, the administrative center close to the border. The army has said its crackdown was provoked by the attacks of Rohingya militants on more than two dozen police posts and an army base last August.

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Separately, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement on Sunday it had no direct knowledge of this case and was not consulted or involved in this reported return.

Myanmar has so far approved fewer than 600 names from a list of more than 8,000 refugees provided by Bangladesh.

UNHCR also urged the Myanmar Government to immediately provide full and unhindered access to refugees' places of origin in Rakhine, which would enable it to assess the situation and provide information to refugees about conditions in the places of origin, as well as to monitor any possible future return and reintegration of refugees. They had never come to Bangladesh for shelter. Now, the first Rohingya family has been repatriated.

The Myanmar government announced late on Saturday that a family of refugees had become the first to be processed in newly built repatriation centres earlier that day.

"We have sent the number to Myanmar authority after completing their biometric registration", he added.

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The Rohingya are reviled by many in the Buddhist-majority country, where they are branded as illegal "Bengali" immigrants from Bangladesh, despite their long roots in Rakhine state.

Separately, Andrea Giorgetta from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) told AFP that the repatriation announcement is "a public relations exercise in an attempt to deflect attention from the need for accountability for crimes committed in Rakhine State".

NVCs are part of the government's ongoing effort to register Rohingya that falls short of offering them citizenship.

Around 6,500 Rohingyas have taken shelter in the no man's land since August 25 previous year, when ethnic conflicts in Rakhine sparked the most rapid human exodus seen since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Hundreds of Rohingya were reportedly killed in the recent violence, and many houses and villages burned to the ground.

Win Myat Aye had met with Rohingya leaders at the giant Kutupalong camp near Cox's Bazar, where a group of refugees tried to stage a protest during his visit.

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