Scepticism as Myanmar announces repatriation of first Rohingya family

Despite UN warning, first Rohingya family repatriated from Bangladesh to Myanmar

After Myanmar claimed it had "repatriated" the first family of Rohingya refugees among 700,000 who fled a brutal crackdown in the country's Rakhine state, the Bangladesh government said the return of only one family can not be regarded as repatriation in any way.

An estimated 687,000 Rohingya - about half of Myanmar's entire population of Rohingya, a stateless Muslim ethnic minority group - have left their homes in northern Rakhine state since violence erupted in August, crossing into Bangladesh and settling in vast and squalid refugee camps.

If confirmed, this would be the first group of Rohingya repatriated to Myanmar since the crisis began.

The Myanmar government announced late on Saturday that a family of refugees had become the first to be processed in newly built repatriation centres earlier that day.

Since August past year, more than half a million Rohingya have undertaken perilous journeys to Bangladesh to flee persecution and violence in Burma.

Myanmar authorities have since bulldozed over numerous charred villages, raising alarm from rights groups who say they are erasing evidence of atrocities and obscuring the Rohingya's ties to the country.

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

Bangladesh's Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Abud Kalam told Reuters that "this is in no way a repatriation, rather it is propaganda". The rest have settled in camps in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh.

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

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Waves of violence have forced Rohingya out of Burma over the past several years, with more than 200,000 Rohingya refugees already in Bangladesh before last year's exodus.

The statement said that authorities determined whether they had lived in the country and provided them with a national verification card — a form of ID that doesn't mean citizenship that Rohingya have been denied in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where they have faced persecution for decades. But it did not mention plans for further returnees expected in the near future.

Most Burmese consider the Rohingya as unwanted immigrants from Bangladesh, and the army refers to them as "Bengalis".

On Friday, UNHCR said that the "conditions in Myanmar are not yet conducive for returns to be safe, dignified and sustainable", adding that "the responsibility for creating such conditions remains with the Myanmar authorities, and these must go beyond the preparation of physical infrastructure to facilitate logistical arrangements".

Myanmar authorities have since bulldozed over numerous charred villages, raising alarm from rights groups who say they are erasing evidence of atrocities and obscuring the Rohingya's ties to the country.

The group described the announcement a "fake event", aimed at luring Rohingya refugees to return to Myanmar to live in camps.

Boats with Rohingya from parts of Rakhine state have continued leaving Myanmar in recent months.

"I hope, Myanmar will repatriate all the families within the possible shortest time", the home minister said.

"We also appreciate Indian government's initiative for rehabilitation projects in Myanmar for constructing prefabricated houses along with China and Japan, for the Rohingyas", he added.

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