UNHCR, UNDP ready to start evaluations in Rohingya villages

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Geneva : The UN refugee agency UNHCR and the UN development agency UNDP are prepared to begin assessment of Rohingya villages in Myanmar, an official said on Friday.

UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch said at a press conference in Geneva that the Myanmar government had informed the two UN agencies that the assessment tasks could begin, but were yet to give individual authorization for the international officials to travel in the country, Efe news reported.

These assessments were a part of a Memorandum of Understanding regarding the return of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh, agreed between the agencies and the Myanmar government, and which even three months after being signed is yet to be implemented.

On June 6, UNHCR and UNDP signed the MoU establishing a framework of cooperation aimed at creating conditions for a safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of the Rohingyas to their places of origin.

More than 800,000 Rohingyas, mostly from Rakhine state, fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since the end of August last year following a crackdown by Myanmar security forces.

Besides the MoU, another important step towards creating appropriate conditions for the safe return of the refugees were to allow access through Rakhine to UN inspectors.

The assessment will cover 23 villages and will be the "initial step only -- with the expectation being that access will then be expanded to allow for the larger-scale comprehensive assessments that continue to be needed," said the spokesperson.

However, Baloch said that, beyond the authorizations, the Myanmar authorities needed to implement what was included in the MoU, especially access to all parts of Rakhine, freedom of movement for all communities and solving the primary causes of the crisis.

Regarding access, the UN agencies called for their officials to be allowed to enter all parts of the state and interact with local communities regularly and without restrictions.

Moreover, they also called for basic services to be distributed to all communities in the state, irrespective of their religion or ethnicity.