Naypyidaw Offers to 'Hand Over' Rohingyas to UN

By Saw Yan Naing 12 July 2012

Burma’s presidential office released a statement on Wednesday saying that it wants to 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.”

The presidential office said that “it is impossible for Burma to accept people who are not ethnic to the country and who have entered illegally.”

In its statement, the Burmese government said it wanted “to hand over Rohingya people” to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which would provide shelter in the form of refugee camps, as well as food and aid.

The president’s office also offered its version of historical events, saying that the Rohingyas were brought into Burma by British colonialists to work in agriculture. After independence in 1948, many of the migrants settled down in Arakan State and did not return home, it said, adding that many others entered Burma illegally after 1948.

It went on to say that the Rohingya migration was a “threat to national stability and peace.” However, the government “will handle the problem seriously and be responsible for the ethnic people,” it said.

The statement comes after Burmese President Thein Sein on Wednesday held talks with UNHCR head Antonio Guterres in Naypyidaw where they discussed plans for bilateral cooperation in handling the affairs of Burmese refugees at the Thai-Burma border, Kachin war refugees in northern Burma, and the issue of Rohingya Muslims in western Burma’s Arakan State.

The UNHCR estimates that 91,000 people have been affected by sectarian violence since it erupted in Arakan State last month. Eighty-two temporary camps have been set up to accommodate the displaced, according to Kitty McKinsey, the regional spokesperson for the UNHCR in Asia.

Speaking with The Irrawaddy on Thursday from Bangkok, McKinsey said that the UNHCR has distributed blankets, kitchen sets, pots and pans, plastic sheeting and mosquito nets to those at the shelters, both Rohingya Muslims and Arakanese Buddhists.

“We are working with the whole UN team to help the people who are displaced,” she said. “We distributed this aid only on the basis of needs. We do not look at the background or national origin. We do not distinguish one group from another. We only look at them as human beings.”

Asked about Naypyidaw’s offer to resettle Rohingyas in third countries, McKinsey said, “These people are displaced in their home country and are not UN-recognized refugees. Therefore, they are not eligible for resettlement in a third country.

“What the UNHCR is doing is to get better conditions for these stateless people,” she added.

The recent violence in Arakan State began with the rape and murder in May of a Buddhist Arakanese girl, allegedly by three Rohingya Muslims. In response, a Buddhist mob killed 10 Muslims on June 3, leading to intense violence between Rohingyas and Arakanese.

The violence escalated in Maungdaw Township in Arakan State on June 8 when a mob of 1,000 Muslims went on a rampage and had to be restrained by Burmese armed troops.