Rohingya Muslims carry their belongings as they move after recent violence in Sittwe. (PHOTO: Reuters)
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has rejected an offer by Burmese President Thein Sein that the UN agency take responsibility for resettling Burma’s Rohingya community in third countries.
On Wednesday, Burma’s presidential office released a statement, citing that it will hand over responsibility for the Rohingya minority to the UN’s refugee agency in Arakan State, adding that it is also “willing to send the Rohingyas to any third country that will accept them.”
UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres, who met Thein Sein in Naypyidaw on Wednesday, told reporters at a press conference in Rangoon the following day that the UN’s resettlement program is totally unrelated to the situation in Arakan State.
Guterres said, “The resettlement programs organized by UNHCR are for refugees who are fleeing a country to another, in very specific circumstances. Obviously, it’s not related to this situation.”
The Portuguese diplomat said that the UNHCR does not discriminate and will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to both communities—Rohingya Muslims and Arakanese Buddhists—who have been affected by the recent sectarian violence in Arakan State.
The UN refugee agency estimates that 91,000 people have been affected by the violence and says 82 temporary camps have been set up to accommodate the displaced.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday, Kitty McKinsey, the regional spokesperson for the UNHCR in Asia, said, “Resettlement under the UHNCR program is only for recognized refugees. And people cannot be refugees in their own country. So it is not logical to talk about resettlement for people who are in their own country,” said McKinsey.
She also said that the UNHCR has no policy to register people as refugees if they are domestically displaced in their own country.
Apart from Rohingya issue, Thein Sein and Guterres also discussed plans for bilateral cooperation in handling the affairs of Burmese refugees at the Thai-Burmese border, as well as Kachin war refugees in northern Burma.
Guterres is planned to leave for Bangkok on Friday to meet with Thai Premier Yingluck Shinawatra to discuss the return of more than 150,000 Burmese refugees who are currently sheltered at nine camps along the Thai-Burmese border.
Except it is the responsibility of the Burmese government to ensure that the Rohingya have a place to live. The Rohingya are Burmese, not ‘illegal immigrants’ that need to be driven out, and they deserve autonomy.