A top US rights envoy in Bangladesh said Thursday that conditions remain unsafe for the return of ethnic Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, with Washington pledging further aid for the crisis.
Bangladesh is home to around a million members of the stateless minority, most of whom fled a 2017 military crackdown in neighbouring Myanmar that is now subject to a genocide probe at the International Criminal Court.
“We support efforts to create the conditions for eventual, safe, dignified, informed and voluntary return of Rohingya — conditions that do not currently exist,” the US Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights Uzra Zeya told reporters in Dhaka.
Zeya, speaking after talks with Bangladesh’s Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen, commended Dhaka for “reaffirming their commitment against forced return” of Rohingya people.
Bangladesh and Myanmar have discussed efforts to begin repatriating Rohingya refugees to their homeland, where they have been subject to decades of persecution and are denied citizenship.
“Obviously, we will not do anything to harm the refugees or Rohingyas that we have, who have been welcomed in Bangladesh,” Momen said.
Dozens have been killed in Rohingya camp clashes between rival insurgent forces this year, with Human Rights Watch on Thursday warning of “surging violence by armed groups and criminal gangs”.
The United States is the biggest donor to Rohingya humanitarian efforts, contributing more than $2.1 billion in aid to Rohingyas and host communities in Bangladesh.
Funding cuts forced the United Nations food agency to cut rations to refugee settlements twice this year, with aid workers warning that the move would likely worsen the already precarious security situation in the camps.
Zeya on Thursday announced a further $74 million in aid, including for Rohingyas refugees in Bangladesh and in camps in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
The US diplomat also met Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and discussed “the need for free and fair elections” due in January 2024.