MYANMAR: Rohingya crisis: Govt says first refugee family returns

Myanmar says it has repatriated the first Rohingya refugees from among almost 700,000 who fled a crackdown in the country a year ago despite warnings from the United Nations that it is not yet safe to return.

Some 700,000 Rohingya have fled across the border to escape a brutal military campaign that began last August.

According to the Myanmar statement, immigration authorities provided the family with national verification cards, a form of ID that falls short of citizenship and has been rejected by Rohingya leaders who want full rights.

"The five members of a family. came back to Taungpyoletwei town repatriation camp in Rakhine state this morning", said a statement posted to the Facebook page of the government's information committee.

Myanmar has repeatedly said it is ready for repatriation, but no date has been given for the return, and scepticism is rife in Bangladesh and elsewhere that the stalled refugee return plan will ever be implemented.

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On Saturday, even as the Myanmar government announced that a family had become the first to be processed in a newly built repatriation centre, the Bangladeshi government's Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Abul Kalam said the family in question used to stay in the Konarpara area in a no man's land between the two countries.

So far, the family has not spoken to any news agency, while a spokesperson for Myanmar, Zaw Htay, maintained it was "not propaganda", and that the family chose to come back on their own.

The UN has said more than 671,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Rakhine State into Cox's Bazar in since Aug 25 in response to so-called "clearing operations" by Burma's Tatmadaw army.

Photos posted alongside the statement showed one man, two women, a young girl and a boy receiving the ID cards and getting health checks.

Myanmar officials could not be reached for further details and the post did not say whether any more returns were expected soon.

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Although the Rohingya have lived in Burma for many generations, most Burmese consider them unwanted immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh and refer to them as "Bengalis", a term the Rohingya consider derogatory. The structures will be part of the Taung Pyo Letwe receiving center for Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh to seek refuge from violence previous year and who are willing to return to Burma.

According to UNHCR, the refugees have said that before considering return to Myanmar, they would need to see concrete progress in relation to their legal status and citizenship, security, and their ability to enjoy basic rights at home in Rakhine state.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees also said in a statement on Sunday that it had no direct knowledge of the case and was not asked to be involved in process.

Ursula Mueller, assistant secretary general for the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, visited northern Rakhine this month and said Myanmar still needs to address "critical issues of freedom of movement, social cohesion, livelihoods, and access to services".

Many Rohingya refugees say they fear to return to a country where they saw their relatives murdered by soldiers and where Buddhist vigilantes drove them from their homes.

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Doctors Without Borders says the violence claimed at least 6,700 Rohingya lives in the first month alone.