Myanmar must allow Rohingya to safely return to their villages, US says

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A U.S. official visiting Bangladesh said Saturday that Rohingya Muslims should be returned safely to their homes in Myanmar after they were forced to flee the country amid a brutal crackdown by Myanmar security forces.

Simon Henshaw, acting assistant secretary for the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, said the U.S. would continue to support Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh because of persecution in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

He said at a news conference in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, that Myanmar must ensure a safe and stable environment so that the Rohingya can return home.

More than 600,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh since late August amid a crackdown that the U.N. has called “ethnic cleansing.”

Henshaw, who visited Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district on Friday, said that the Rohingya crisis was a complex one and that the U.S. would continue to encourage dialogue for resolving it.

He said Myanmar must take responsibility for the refugees’ repatriation and that the U.S. wants speedy efforts to bring stability to Rakhine.

Henshaw praised Bangladesh’s government and its people for supporting the refugees.

Heather Nauert, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, told the news conference that the Rohingya crisis was getting the “top attention” not only in the State Department but in the White House.

She said the U.S. was working so that Rohingya can return to their homes voluntarily and with dignity.

Bangladesh says it has sheltered the refugees only temporarily and they must go back to Myanmar.

More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since late August carrying accounts of murder, rape and arson at the hands of Myanmar’s powerful army during a military crackdown dubbed as “ethnic cleansing” by the UN.

After weeks of intense global pressure, Myanmar agreed to take back Rohingya who meet “verification” standards. But the criteria remains vague, raising fears it will be used to restrict the number of returnees.

Experts say repatriation will also be complicated by the scale of destruction in Rakhine, where hundreds of Rohingya villages have been reduced to ash.

Relief workers say some refugees have expressed a reluctance to return if it would mean living in camp-like settlements or being barred from occupying the land they had before.

U.S. lawmakers on Friday proposed sanctions against Myanmar’s military, in some of the strongest efforts yet by Washington to pressure the Southeast Asian nation to end abusive treatment of the Muslim minority.

For decades, the Rohingya have faced discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship and denigrated as illegal “Bengali” immigrants.

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