YANGON: Myanmar’s government said it has repatriated the first family of Rohingya refugees, among 700,000 who fled a brutal crackdown, but the move was slammed by rights groups as a publicity stunt which ignored warnings over the security of returnees.
The stateless Muslim minority has been massing in squalid refugee camps across the border in Bangladesh since the Myanmar army launched a ruthless campaign against the community in northern Rakhine state last August.
The UN says the operation amounts to ethnic cleansing, but Myanmar has denied the charge, saying its troops targeted Rohingya militants.
Bangladesh and Myanmar vowed to begin repatriation in January but the plan has been repeatedly delayed as both sides blame the other for a lack of preparation.
According to a Myanmar government statement posted late Saturday, one family of refugees became the first to be processed in newly built reception centers earlier in the day.
“The five members of a family… came back to Taungpyoletwei town repatriation camp in Rakhine state this morning,” said a statement posted on the official Facebook page of the government’s Information Committee.
Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner, Mohammad Abul Kalam, said the family had been living in a camp erected on a patch of “no man’s land” between the two countries.
Several thousand Rohingya have been living in the zone since August, crammed into a cluster of tents beyond a barbed-wire fence which roughly demarcates the border zone between the two countries.