Yangon: The United Nations said Wednesday it still had not been granted independent access to the epicentre of Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis two months after inking a deal with the government to carry out work there.
UN refugee and development agencies signed an agreement with Myanmar in June that permitted them to operate in northern Rakhine state where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims were driven from their homes in a brutal army campaign that started almost a year ago.
The agreement was supposed to let the UN help Myanmar create conditions on the ground that would be conducive to a safe and voluntary return for the stateless Rohingya, many of whom are currently languishing in camps in southeast Bangladesh.
So far they have refused to come back without any guarantee of security or basic rights such as citizenship.
The UN agencies said in a joint statement that requests dating back to mid-June for international employees to be allowed to start work in northern Rakhine state remained unanswered.
Though they highlighted some “encouraging” steps, such as visits to the area by UN officials, they said Myanmar needed to provide “effective access”.
The UN refugee agency has kept an office in northern Rakhine state throughout the crisis but staff are not able to work in the field freely.
The statement also called on Myanmar to provide freedom of movement for all communities and to address the root cause of the crisis.
In Myanmar, the Rohingya are widely regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and most live under apartheid-like conditions, cut off from adequate healthcare and unable to travel.
Some 700,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since August last year. Living in cramped shelters they have recounted horrific testimonies of murder, rape and torture at the hands of army troops and mobs of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
The US and UN brand the operations carried out by security forces as ethnic cleansing.
But Myanmar’s military says it was defending itself against Rohingya militants and denies targeting civilians.
A spokesman for the Myanmar government could not be reached for comment.
Rakhine has been largely sealed off since the crisis exploded, with Myanmar undertaking a massive reconstruction programme that critics say amounts to the erasure of Rohingya history.