Minister Claims Refugee Returnees Intimidated by ARSA

By San Yamin Aung 16 November 2018

YANGON—Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement U Win Myat Aye has claimed the Rohingya who want to return to Myanmar are being discouraged by threats from affiliates of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).

In an exclusive interview published in state-run newspapers on Friday, the minister, who is also chairman of the committee of acceptance and resettlement of returnees, said those who wish to come back from the refugee camps in Bangladesh directly contacted officials on the Myanmar side through Viber to say they have been prevented from doing so, and even prevented from filling out forms required for their repatriation.

“Among those in the camps over there who want to return, some were tortured and killed in some cases,” the minister said, adding that the threats discouraged those who want to voluntarily return to Myanmar.

Last year, nearly 700,000 Rohingya fled to nearby Bangladesh after security forces’ clearance operations in the area following ARSA attacks on police outposts there. The government denounced ARSA as a terrorist group, while the UN has called the Myanmar military’s operations “ethnic cleansing.”

In October, Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed to start the repatriation process for the first group of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar this week. Myanmar has prepared to accept 150 people per day at the repatriation center in Maungdaw Township, northern Rakhine State, starting from Thursday, yet no refugees opted to come back.

Minister U Win Myat Aye, accompanied by his deputy U Soe Aung, Minister of Immigration and Population U Thein Swe, and Rakhine State Chief Minister U Nyi Pu, were waiting for refugees at the Taungpyo Letwei repatriation center.

At a press conference held late on Thursday in Naypyitaw regarding repatriation, the Myanmar government said the process has been opened and they will accept anyone who is ready to come back voluntarily.

Hundreds of Rohingya protested in the refugee camp of Unchiprang in Teknaf, in Bangladesh, from where the first batch of the Rohingya families were supposed to leave on Thursday. They demanded justice and a guarantee of security and citizenship.

Speaking on Thursday to reporters in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, U Win Myat Aye said the government understands the concerns of the refugees, adding that they can guarantee the safety of the returnees if they abide the country’s existing laws.

U Win Myat Aye, who also chairs the government’s Implementation Committee for Recommendations on Rakhine State, added that the government is working on a citizenship verification process as well as providing freedom of movement as their priorities.