Executive Summary for April 16th

We review the latest refugee-related issues, including the U.N. refugee agency and Bangladesh disputing a claim that Rohingya returns have begun, Syrians from Ghouta recalling years of deprivation and UNHCR questioning Australia prioritizing white South African farmers.

Published on April 16, 2018 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Bangladesh Says Fake Repatriation of Rohingya Is a Farce

Bangladesh and the United Nations refugee agency reject claims that Rohingya repatriations have begun. The claims came from Myanmar, which presented what it said were the first five refugees to return.

Bangladesh’s interior minister denied that the five Rohingya named by Myanmar had ever crossed the border. Asaduzzaman Khan said the family had not been “repatriated” because they had never reached Bangladesh.

The Myanmar government said in an April 14 statement that the family had returned to western Rakhine state and had been given a temporary I.D. card, not citizenship.

While Khan reiterated Bangladesh’s desire for Rohingya refugees, 700,000 of whom have fled since last August, to return, he said the weekend stunt was “nothing but a farce.”

“I hope Myanmar will take all the Rohingya families back within the shortest possible time,” he said.

The UNHCR said it had no knowledge of the family and had not participated in any returns. The U.N. has likened the military campaign that drove Rohingya across the border to “ethnic cleansing” and publicly questioned whether Myanmar is ready to take back refugees.

Displaced Syrians Recall Years of Deprivation in Besieged Suburbs

Syrians driven out of a besieged suburb of the capital have told of years of deprivation. The displaced from Eastern Ghouta, where recent chemical attacks have been reported, are now in overcrowded shelters.

Many of those in the shelters come from Douma, the site of the chemical attack that the U.S., France and the U.K. say prompted them to launch retaliatory air strikes. Many of the former residents of Douma said their houses had been destroyed during massive Syrian and Russian bombing.

Asma Mohammed, now in a shelter, told reporters that she ground animal feed to make bread for her three-year-old son. Having spent his entire life amid the siege, he was not able to comprehend freely available food, she said.

“I told him there is no need to hide food. It’s available now,” she said. But he still concealed bread in her pocket, just in case.

Some 177,000 people have fled Eastern Ghouta since February, according to the United Kingdom-based monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, with 108,000 going to shelters in government-held areas. About 12,000 fighters have reportedly been relocated to the northern rebel-held Idlib province.

U.N. Says Australia Should Prioritize Manus, Not White South Africans

The U.N. refugee agency has advised Australia to prioritize others ahead of white South African farmers.

The comments followed pressure within the ruling coalition to offer refugee status to the farmers.

A UNHCR spokesperson said the organization had received no appeals from white farmers but had received numerous requests from those stuck in Australia’s offshore asylum centers on Manus Island and Nauru.

“Those who have been forcibly transferred to Papua New Guinea and Nauru under the ‘offshore processing’ arrangement should be Australia’s first priority after almost five years,” said UNHCR spokesperson Catherine Stubberfield.

Australia’s interior minister, Peter Dutton, has said white South African farmers deserve special attention from a “civilized country.”

Some conservatives in Australia are calling on the government to allow a one-off special intake of white farmers similar to that set up for refugees from the war in Syria.

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