YANGON – President U Win Myint has pardoned 58 displaced Rohingya who were detained while attempting to re-enter the country from Bangladesh.
According to a brief statement released by the State Counsellor’s Office on Sunday, 62 returnees were arrested by local authorities for illegally crossing the border. The group was attempting to return to strife-torn northern Rakhine State’s Maungdaw Township from a refugee camp in Bangladesh. They were traveling independently, and not according to procedures outlined in an official refugee repatriation agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh signed on Nov. 23, 2017.
Cases against four of the detainees were later dropped. The statement did not specify how many were ultimately imprisoned, or under which articles of the criminal code. It did not name the home villages of those arrested.
According to the statement, the group was returning from a camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazaar. This is the first time any refugees have attempted to return from Bangladesh, it said.
Despite the bilateral agreement, not a single person had been officially repatriated as of Monday. In April, a five-member family led by Alphata Arlon — an administrative official from Taungpyo Let Yar — who spent several months camped on the Myanmar side of the border voluntarily re-entered the Taungpyo Let Wei refugee reception center.
According to Sunday’s statement, authorities released the detained returnees to Nga Khu Ya reception camp from Buthidaung Prison in order to fill out the necessary forms as specified under the bilateral agreement. Next they will be temporarily settled in Hla Phoe Khaung transit camp, a separate location in northern Maungdaw. The statement avoided applying the contentious terms “Rohingya” or “Bengali” and simply referred to them as “displaced persons.”
The statement adds that authorities will not take action against any of the returnees unless they were involved in attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on government security outposts in August 2017. In response to the attacks, the Myanmar Army launched a counter-terrorism campaign that drove nearly 700,000 Rohingya into neighboring Bangladesh, creating what is currently the biggest refugee camp in the world. The Army has been accused of causing mass devastation and committing rights violations and arbitrary killings.
The United Nations Security Council, which sent a team to visit Bangladesh and northern Rakhine in early May, has described the military campaign as “ethnic cleansing” and urged Myanmar to cooperate in a credible independent investigation into alleged abuses by security forces and to allow the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights to return to Myanmar. The E.U. and the U.S. have imposed targeted sanctions against top military generals responsible for the violence in Maungdaw, while international human rights groups have called on the U.N. to bring high-ranking military officials before the International Criminal Court.