UNHCR says setting timeline for Rohingya return extremely difficult

UNHCR deputy high commissioner Kelly T Clements speaks with journalists at a city hotel on Thursday. Photo: UNB.
UNHCR deputy high commissioner Kelly T Clements speaks with journalists at a city hotel on Thursday. Photo: UNB.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) on Thursday said it is extremely difficult to set a timeline for the return of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, reports UNB.
The UNHCR called on the international community to continue its support to Bangladesh and the humanitarian response while, in parallel, working with the Myanmar government to support Myanmar to create the conditions conducive to sustainable return.
"It's extremely difficult to set a timeline. There're too many factors," UNHCR deputy high commissioner Kelly T Clements told reporters at a media interaction in a city hotel in the evening.
Clements, who concluded a four-day visit to Bangladesh, praised continued generosity of Bangladesh, encouraged international solidarity for solutions.
She highlighted the importance of UNHCR and partner agencies’ continued work with refugees in Bangladesh to help them develop skills and capacities which will in the future support their return and reintegration into Myanmar.
While in Cox's Bazar, Clements met local officials to discuss the ongoing operational response and opportunities to further aid Bangladeshi communities generously hosting refugees.
She also met groups of refugees, including women and youths, to discuss their hopes and aspirations for the future and ways UNHCR could further support them.
In Dhaka, Clements met senior officials from foreign affairs ministry, disaster management and relief ministry and prime minister's office, thanking them for Bangladesh's continued generosity.
Going into 2020, she highlighted UNHCR's strong continued commitment to supporting Bangladesh's leadership for the humanitarian response, the need to ensure the necessary operational space for all partners, as well as the UN's readiness to continue to constructively engage with the government on Bhasan Char.
They also discussed the need for significant and parallel efforts in Myanmar's Rakhine state, and Clements pledged UNHCR's continued efforts to support the government of Myanmar and other relevant actors to secure solutions for refugees and create conditions conducive for sustainable returns.
This visit, which follows her last one in December 2017, allowed Clements to take stock of significant progress made and of challenges which remain in the Rohingya refugee response, including the impact on host communities.
Much progress was visible throughout the visit of both Nayapara and Kutupalong refugee settlements, including significant measures to mitigate the effects of the monsoon season, efforts of Rohingya community volunteers to respond to the needs of their own communities, and the near completion of UNHCR's joint registration exercise with the government of Bangladesh, which has to date registered more than 800,000 people.
While visiting the Kutupalong registration centre, Clements said that "registration is an essential protection tool". She added "it is a huge achievement, which will greatly contribute to ensuring access to protection and aid for the Rohingyas. For many, it is the first form of identification that they have had."
Despite funding constraints, with US$ 617 million of the US$ 950 million needed for the overall joint response available, humanitarian partners have been able to meet many of the needs of the refugees and support local Bangladesh communities.
During her visit, Clements and Cox's Bazar deputy commissioner, Mohammad Kamal Hossain, inaugurated a Cash Distribution Programme for the local community in Teknaf.
UNHCR and its partner World Vision International are distributing over US $1.25 million to 17,000 local families in Ukhiya and Teknaf upazilas.
The programme complements existing social safety net schemes of the government of Bangladesh, providing additional assistance to the elderly, widows and persons with disabilities.
It complements other programmes benefitting local communities through a range of sectors, including investments to improve the local infrastructure and access to basic services.
"We're very grateful for this support for the local community which will have a major impact on people's lives", said Hossain, at the inauguration ceremony.
"We must continue to work together with UNHCR and globally to ensure the safe return of the Rohingya refugees to Myanmar", he added.
While in the camps, Clements also met with members of the Rohingya community. In these encounters, refugees highlighted that conditions in Myanmar's Rakhine state do not currently allow for returns in safety and dignity - consistent with the outcome of previous surveys of refugees' return intentions.