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Conditions not yet in place for safe Rohingya returns

Rohingya Muslims

Bangladesh and Myanmar have signed a memorandum of understanding on Thursday on the return of Rohingya people who fled the Rakhine state in the wake of a military crackdown.

"Myanmar and Bangladesh have clear obligations under global law not to return individuals to a situation in which they are at risk of persecution or other serious human rights violations".

The United States on Wednesday joined other world powers and declared that the brutal campaign against Muslims in Myanmar amounts to ethnic cleansing. "We're continuing our bilateral talks with Myanmar so that these Myanmar nationals could return to their country.", she said.

It said that a working group would be set up within three weeks to agree to the arrangements for the repatriation. [They] will take back [Rohingya].

"It's not a situation that is completely under her authority, but certainly we are counting on her to show leadership and also to work through the civilian government with the military to address the crisis", a senior USA official told reporters in a conference call.

Impoverished and overcrowded, Bangladesh won worldwide praise for allowing the refugees into the country, but has imposed restrictions on their movements and said it does not want them to stay. The details of the accord are still sketchy, procedural disagreements on how to implement the plan remain, and not everyone is convinced simply sending the Rohingya back to where they were being slaughtered is the appropriate course of action.

Rohingya refugee children wait for food at a distribution centre in Ukhia district on Thursday. "Families live side by side, some families are five, but some families are up to eight and more".

"We estimate there are more than 190,000 women and girls [in the camps] who increasingly are encountering a lack of access to gender-based services", says Bernard Coquelin, UNFPA's humanitarian lead in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, where he was reached in a call arranged by the UN Foundation in Washington. But an hour's drive from the coast, the refugees squeeze together in densely packed settlements. More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh. "Some tell us that they've walked for six days, they've walked for 10 days with just the possessions that they have".

Pramila Patten, who met many Rohingya victims of sexual violence in Bangladesh camps during a visit this month, said she fully endorses the assessment by United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein that Rohingya have been victims of "ethnic cleansing".

Mr. Sullivan, who visited the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh in May (when the numbers were much smaller) and then again in September, says he would not be able to tie the dearth of services for Rohingya women and girls to cuts in U.S. funding, "although it makes sense to me", he adds. Rights groups have raised concerns about the process, including where the minority will be resettled and how their safety will be ensured in a country where anti-Muslim sentiment is surging.

But Miles says she's skeptical the agreement will address those challenges. It is significant that Myanmar has accepted that these people have been living in Myanmar and therefore have some right of return.

Speaking at a news conference in New York, Patten said at a news conference that the widespread use of sexual violence "was clearly a driver and push factor" for more than 620,000 Rohingya to flee Myanmar.

Tensions erupted into bouts of bloodshed in 2012 that pushed more than 100,000 Rohingya into grim displacement camps.

"We're barred from getting any money from the United States government, and that is having a significant impact", says Ugochi Daniels, chief of humanitarian response at the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). We hope to sign the deal tomorrow (Thursday).

Suu Kyi's government has blocked visas for a UN-fact finding mission tasked with probing accusations of military abuse.

The latest unrest occurred after Rohingya rebels attacked police posts on August 25.