The U.N. has rejected an offer by the Burmese government to resettle Royingya Muslims, a stateless people who live in western Burma and who have been denied citizenship in the country.
The Burmese president told the U.N. refugee representative on Thursday that non-citizen Rohingya Muslims in far western Burma should be placed in refugee camps or deported, following sectarian violence in the country in June which claimed up to 79 lives of both Muslims and Buddhists.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres on Thursday rejected the suggestion by Burmese President Thein Sein, saying it was not the U.N.’s job to resettle the Rohingya, who the U.N. calls one of the most persecuted people in the world.
“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,” Guterres told the media after a meeting with the president.
Thein Sein said that Rohingya were not welcome in Burma.
“We will take responsibility for our ethnic people, but it is impossible to accept the illegally entered Rohingyas, who are not our ethnicity,” he told Guterres, according to the president's official website.
The president called the move was the “only solution.” Within Burma, there is widespread resentment against the Rohingyas – who number around 800,000 –and who are called “Bengali” by Burmese.
“We will send them away if any third country would accept them,” Thein Sein said. “This is what we are thinking is the solution to the issue.”
Up to 79 people – Muslim and Buddhist – died in the violence that occurred in June in Arakan (Rahkine) State. Tens of thousands fled their homes, and up to 3,000 homes were burned. Burma places many restrictions on Rohingyas including movement, land rights, education and public services, according to nongovernment groups.
Rohingya migrants have sought to leave the country, taking dangerous voyages by boat towards Malaysia or Thailand in recent years. Up to 300,000 are living in Bangladesh in underfunded camps or makeshift illegal settlements.
Bangladesh has turned back Rohingya boats arriving on its shores since the outbreak of the unrest in Burma.
“Basically Myanmar does not consider these 735,000 Muslims in northern Rakhine state to be their citizens, and we think the solution is for them to get citizenship in Myanmar,” UNHCR's Asia spokeswoman Kitty McKinsey told Agence France Presse.
“So we would not be very likely to assist in transporting them out of the country and housing them somewhere else. As a refugee agency, we do not usually participate in creating refugees.”
She said the U.N. has been working to solve the problem for decades. During the unrest, 10 refugee workers, including some from the UN, were detained in Arakan State by the government in the wake of the unrest, according to a situation bulletin by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) last week.
Three people – two from the UN and another international aid worker – reportedly appeared in court on June 9.
“They have been charged and appeared in court, but they have not been tried,” an unnamed aid worker told AFP.
Up to 30,000 people in Arakan State remain in government-run relief camps supported by the U.N. World Food Programme and other international groups.
According to Amnesty International, the Muslim Rohingya people have suffered from human rights violations under successive Burmese governments since 1978, and many have fled to neighboring Bangladesh and other countries as a result. The Rohingyas freedom of movement in Burma is severely restricted and the vast majority of them have effectively been denied Burma citizenship.
In 1978, over 200,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh following an operation of the Burmese army. Officially the campaign aimed designating citizens and foreigners in accordance with the law and taking actions against foreigners who had entered the country illegally. This military campaign directly targeted civilians, and resulted in widespread killings, rape and destruction of mosques and further religious persecution, according to nongovernment groups.
During 1991-92 a new wave of over a quarter of a million Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh.
As of 2005, the UNHCR had been assisting with the repatriation of Rohingya from Bangladesh, but allegations of human rights abuses in the refugee camps have threatened that effort.
The vast majority of Rohingya refugees have remained in Bangladesh, unable to return because of the negative attitude of the ruling government in Burma. Now they are facing problems in Bangladesh as well where they do not receive adequate support from the government, which claims it lacks the fund to deal with the refugee situation.