GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. refugee agency voiced deep concern on Friday for the safety and security of seven Rohingya men deported from India to Myanmar, saying they had been denied access to legal counsel and a chance to have their asylum claims assessed.
India deported the Rohingya Muslim men on Thursday, raising fears of further repatriations among those sheltering in refugee camps in the country and concern that those returned faced the risk of abuse at the hands of Myanmar authorities.
“UNHCR continues to seek clarification from the (Indian) authorities on the circumstances under which these individuals were returned to Myanmar,” spokesman Andrej Mahecic told a news briefing in Geneva.
He had no information on the whereabouts of those deported to Myanmar, where separate U.N. rights investigators have accused the military of committing mass murders and rapes with “genocidal intent” and ethnic cleansing.
The Myanmar government has rejected most allegations of atrocities made against the security forces by refugees. It has built transit centres for refugees to return, but U.N. aid agencies say it is not yet safe for them to do so.
“What is worrying in the context of this return is hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people have fled from Myanmar over recent decades,” Mahecic said, noting they included 720,000 who fled to Bangladesh from a military crackdown in August 2017.
“Current conditions in Myanmar’s Rakhine state are not conducive for safe, dignified and sustainable return of stateless Rohingya refugees,” he added.
UNHCR aid workers on Friday began to assess conditions in three Rakhine townships, following a limited assessment last month in 23 villages where they found that “the Muslim communities are not allowed to move freely”, Mahecic said. “Fear and mistrust are the prevalent sentiments there now.”
A year ago, Myanmar government troops led a brutal crackdown in Rakhine in response to attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on police posts and a military base.
U.N. investigators said the military action, which included the torching of villages, was “grossly disproportionate to actual security threats”.
Editing by Mark Heinrich