GENEVA, 16 November 2018 - This is a summary of what was said by Christophe Boulierac, UNICEF spokesperson in Geneva – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
“This week we have seen widespread reports that Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh may be forcibly repatriated to Myanmar, reports that UNICEF views with the utmost concern, with particular concern at how such a move would affect children.
“Yesterday our colleagues working in Unchiprang camp in Cox’s Bazar – one of the camps targeted for repatriation – witnessed a large demonstration by Rohingya refugees against the plans for repatriation. The camp authorities reinforced the message that while they are ready to repatriate refugees on a voluntary basis, no Rohingya refugees will be forced to return to Myanmar if they do not wish to do so.
“We welcome this move by the Bangladesh government. UNICEF wholly supports the approach of UNHCR in relation to this question. Any repatriation must be voluntary, sustainable, conducted in safety and with dignity. We would take grave exception towards any moves to repatriate children that do not conform to these criteria. Children should not be separated from their parents or guardians. Children should not be exposed to any levels of stress or discomfort during repatriation, nor should any child that is ill be repatriated.
“Unofficial polls conducted by our UNICEF colleagues in the camps have all reached the same conclusion. The overwhelming majority of refugees are unwilling to be repatriated unless their safety can be guaranteed. The consensus is that while conditions in the camps are tough, they remain preferable to the perceived risks of returning to Myanmar. For many, the trauma they witnessed during their exodus from Myanmar at the end of 2017 is still fresh in their minds.
“It is easy to understand their concern. Rohingya children and families who remain in Rakhine State continue to face particular hardship and are in need of humanitarian assistance due to ongoing restrictions on their freedom of movement and limited access to essential services such as health and education.
“Just a few days ago, on 13 November, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that it continues to receive reports of ongoing violations of the rights of Rohingya remaining in northern Rakhine, which include allegations of killings, disappearances and arbitrary arrests, as well as widespread restrictions on the rights to freedom of movement, health and education.
“Many organizations that worked in northern Rakhine State prior to August 2017 have been unable to resume activities to the extent desired or previously held due to restrictions by the Government of Myanmar. UNICEF along with the humanitarian community in Myanmar, continues to call for unhindered access, including simplified access procedures, to enable the timely and predictable delivery of life-saving aid, protection assistance and build confidence among communities.
“So whilst the situation in Myanmar remains incredibly worrying, we also have concerns for Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh. Education remains high on our list of concerns – particularly for teenagers in the camp. Their plight was outlined by UNICEF in a Child alert released in August this year. We aim to continue our work providing a network of Learning Centres (LCs) and Child Friendly Spaces (CFSs). There are now more than 1100 learning centers run by UNICEF and its partners in the camps reaching 124000 children with education.
“UNICEF calls on the international community to continue working with the governments and civil society of Bangladesh and Myanmar in support of Rohingya children and families, towards longer term solutions to this crisis, based on respect for and protection of the human rights of all Rohingya people.”