YANGON, Myanmar – U.N. agencies appealed Wednesday to Myanmar's government to do more to implement an agreement on the return of hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya who fled military violence.
The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, and development agency, UNDP, said in a statement that they seek "tangible progress to improve conditions in Rakhine state," the area in western Myanmar from where about 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh after a brutal crackdown following an attack by militants on Myanmar security forces last August.
Myanmar's security forces have been accused of widespread human rights violations, including rape, murder, torture and the burning of Rohingya homes, that some critics charge amount to ethnic cleansing.
The U.N. agencies in June signed a memorandum of understanding offering assistance for the safe and sustainable return of the refugees. Wednesday's statement said they need more access to Rakhine state, freedom of movement for all residents and a government willingness to address the root causes of the crisis.
It said some initial actions taken under the June 6 agreement were "encouraging," but substantial progress was urgently needed.
"First, effective access requires being able to consult, freely and independently and on a day-to-day basis, with communities in Rakhine state about their needs," the agencies said. They said they have not received a response from the government to a June 14 request for authorization for international staff to work in the area where resettlement would take place.
They said "freedom of movement, as well as increased public services delivery, are crucial for all communities in Rakhine state, irrespective of religion, ethnicity or citizenship status," but was denied, especially to Rohingya residents.
The agencies said it was fundamental to address the root causes of the crisis, "including a clear, voluntary and equal pathway to citizenship for all eligible individuals."
Muslim Rohingya face official and social discrimination in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, which denies most of them citizenship and basic rights. They are considered immigrants from Bangladesh, even though many families settled in Myanmar generations ago.