mar 10 2009

UNHCR Discusses Rohingya Issue with Burmese Regime

source : the Irrawaddy By LAWI WENG

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Antonio Guterres, discussed the plight of Rohingya refugees on Monday with Burmese government officials in Naypyidaw.

A UNHCR official in Rangoon told The Irrawaddy that Guterres planned to travel on to Burma’s Arakan State on Tuesday to meet members of the Rohingya community there, but his plans depended on clearance by the Naypyidaw regime.

A refugee of Burma’s Rohingya ethnic minority holds a placard during a demonstration outside Burmese embassy in Kuala Lumpur last month. (Photo: Reuters)

Guterres met several Burmese government representatives on Monday, including officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Immigration.

The UNHCR official said he could give no details of the talks, which had covered not only the plight of the Rohingyas but humanitarian issues of concern to the UNHCR.

On his way to Burma, Guterres met Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya in Bangkok on Saturday and discussed how the UNHCR could contribute to resolving the Rohingya problem.

Guterres told reporters after his talks with Kasit that the purpose of his mission to Burma was to expand “humanitarian space” and create better living conditions to discourage migration.

The Thai government and the UNHCR in Thailand agreed to issue a “handbook” for officials to help them screen Rohingya migrants and determine which among them were Bengalis. Burma maintains the Rohingya migrants are Bengalis and not Burmese citizens.

The Rohingyas are, in fact, a Muslim minority living in Burma’s Arakan State and subject to harsh official restrictions. They are forbidden from leaving Arakan State and suffer other human rights abuses.

Thousands have attempted to flee in open boats to Malaysia and Indonesia. Untold numbers are thought to have drowned in the open seas, while more than 1,000 have beached in Thailand, where they are held as illegal immigrants. Attempts to repatriate them are opposed by both Burma and Bangladesh, who can’t agree on the true nationality of the Rohingyas.