UNHCR chief urges government to grant citizenship to Rohingya

The head of the United Nations refugee agency has urged Myanmar to grant citizenship to the Rohingya, Reuters reported on July 7.

“It’s important to work on granting citizenship to the Muslim community, that has been deprived of citizenship for many years,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Filippo Grandi, told reporters in Bangkok after a five-day visit to Myanmar that included a trip to Rakhine State.

Grandi, who was making his first official visit to Southeast Asia, also said more investment was needed in Rakhine, where about one million people who call themselves Rohingya are regarded by the government and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

“It is one of the poorest states in the Union of Myanmar and there’s an urgent need for development investments that must be inclusive of the two communities,” he said.

While in Rakhine Grandi visited a camp in Sittwe holding Muslims displaced by communal violence in 2012 and travelled to northern Maungdaw Township, which has a large Rohingya population.

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Communal tensions have simmered in the area since security forces launched a crackdown last October after Islamic militants launched deadly attacks on police border posts.

At least 100 ethnic Rakhine residents fled their homes in northern Maundaw early this month amid rumours about attacks by militants, who have also been accused of killing Muslim village administrators.

Grandi, whose visit included talks with State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and other government ministers, was quoted in a UNHCR release as saying the situation in Rakhine involved “complex issues but they are not intractable. A crucial first step is to pursue freedom of movement and access to services and livelihoods for all. “

Grandi and Aung San Suu Kyi also discussed IDPs in Kachin State and the 102,000 Myanmar refugees living in camps just over the border with Thailand.

“We agreed that returns must be voluntary and sustainable. Refugees should not come back to a situation of dependency but of self-reliance,” a separate UN statement reported Grandi as saying.

Reuters quoted the UNHCR chief as saying the Thai government was preparing to help 200 camp residents return to Myanmar soon, following the voluntary repatriation of 71 refugees last October.

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