A panel led by former UN chief Kofi Annan says Myanmar needs to close the squalid camps in Rakhine State, where thousands of persecuted displaced Rohingya Muslims have been trapped for nearly five years, and allow them to return home.
“It’s really about time they close the camps and allow the people in the camps, particularly those who have gone through the (citizenship) verification process, access to freedom of movement and all rights of citizenship,” Annan told Reuters on Thursday by telephone from Geneva.
More than 120,000 Rohingya Muslims have languished in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) since they were driven from their homes by extremist Buddhists in 2012.
Most are not allowed to leave the bleak displacement camps, where they live in rundown shelters with little access to food. They have also been denied access to basic education and healthcare.
“We have made recommendations that can be implemented now and help improve the situation,” Annan said.
Ghassan Salame, a member of the body, also said at the launch of the body’s interim report in the Myanmar city of Yangon on Thursday that the commission calls for “an independent investigation into the violence in Rakhine.”
The report calls for the Myanmar government to ensure “security and livelihood opportunities at the site of return/relocation” for those leaving the camps. It also suggests building new houses for the displaced Muslims.
Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s office said it would implement the “large majority of recommendations” without giving more details.
Myanmar has long faced international condemnation for its treatment of the Rohingya. Suu Kyi, who has received the Nobel Peace Prize, has been incapable of containing the violence against the minority community.
Rakhine has been under a military siege since October 2016 over a raid on a police post that was blamed on the Rohingya. A four-month crackdown on the minority group has seen some 75,000 Rohingya Muslims flee to Bangladesh.
UN investigators, who interviewed Rohingya escapees in neighboring Bangladesh, have blamed Myanmar’s government forces for responding with a campaign of murder, gang rape and arson that they say may amount to genocide.
On Monday, Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur on Myanmar, warned that the Southeast Asian country may be seeking to “expel” all members of the Rohingya Muslim community from its territory.
The UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, has said treatment of the Rohingya merits a UN commission of inquiry and review by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Buddhist-dominated Myanmar has a history of discrimination against Muslims, considering the Rohingya illegal immigrants.
Rights groups and governments have challenged the claim, arguing that the Rohingya had historical roots in the country.