Rohingya refugees from Myanmar carry their belongings as they flee violence. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/AFP/KM ASAD
Rohingya refugees from Myanmar carry their belongings as they flee violence. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/AFP/KM ASAD

Yangon — Myanmar’s government says it has repatriated the first family of Rohingya refugees among the 700,000 who fled a brutal crackdown. The move, however, was criticised by rights groups as a publicity stunt that ignored warnings on the security of returnees.

The Muslim minority has been massing in squalid refugee camps 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 was delayed as they blamed each other for a lack of preparation.

According to a Myanmar government statement: "One family of refugees became the first to be processed in newly built reception centres earlier in the day. The five members of a family … came back to Taungpyoletwei town repatriation camp in Rakhine state."

Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner, Mohammad Abul Kalam, said the Rohingya family had been living in a camp erected on a patch of no man’s land between the two countries, meaning Dhaka had no formal role in their return.

Several thousand Rohingya have been living in the zone since August, crammed into a cluster of tents beyond a barbed-wire fence that roughly demarcates the border. The rest have settled in camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.

"We don’t know when [repatriation] will start. They have not been able to create a ground for trust that they will take back these people," Bangladesh’s home minister Asaduzzaman Khan said on Sunday.

According to the Myanmar statement, immigration authorities provided the family with national verification cards, a form of identity document that falls short of citizenship and has been rejected by many Rohingya leaders, who want full rights before they return.

AFP

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