The Fortunate Failure of ‘Voluntary Repatriation’ For Rohingya Refugees

Reposted from The Irrawaddy, February 11, 2019

By TONY WATERS 

In 2017 and 2018, between 600,000 and 800,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar following attacks and clearance operations targeting their villages and coordinated by the Myanmar military. The result is the world’s largest refugee camp, Kutupalong, situated in a low-lying corner of Cox’s Bazar District in Bangladesh. The camp is there because the Bangladesh government saw it as a humanitarian way to deal with the refugee influx and preferable to a military operation. The international community, led by the UNHCR, was invited to receive the refugees and coordinate the establishment of a large camp in the low-lying district.

The initial success of this operation is not in doubt. The Bangladesh government, UNHCR and international partners successfully housed hundreds of thousands — perhaps as many as 1 million — refugees in a manner that recognized their needs for protection in a situation that could otherwise lead to a war involving Myanmar, Bangladesh, and other countries. Mobilizing the international donor community and establishing such refugee camps quickly is indeed what the UNHCR and the international refugee regime is good at, and it is why they are such a positive force in the world for blunting the consequences of acute conflict. In recent decades the UNHCR has done this in the former Yugoslavia, Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

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