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Satellite images indicate Myanmar is not prepared to welcome back Rohingya refugees

From WN

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) released a report which analyzed satellite imagery across Myanmar on Wednesday which raised concerns about the possibility of a safe and humane return for the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled the country since 2017, according to The Guardian.

Even though Myanmar’s civilian government promised to repatriate the more than 700,000 Muslims who fled from the Rakhine state over the border into Bangladesh, ASPI said the satellite images they obtained indicate they have not taken any major steps to do so.

“We’ve found no evidence of widespread preparation for Rohingya refugees to return to safe and dignified conditions,” the report said, indicating the practice of burning Rohingya villages in Rakhine has continued from August 2017 through this year.

The Rohingya who fled the country recounted how the military crackdown included instances of razing entire villages, killing many Rohingya men, raping women, and torture.

The satellite images obtained by ASPI indicated at least 58 Rohingya settlements were demolished in 2018, but more continued during this year as the Myanmar military continued their campaign to eradicate all the Rohingya villages in the Rakhine state.

“What surprised me most was the scale of the continued burning after 2017,” Nathan Ruser, one of the authors of the report, told The Guardian. “It wasn’t just scattered villages or occasional homes being burned in 2018 and 2019, the military went through whole landscapes and burned every village. So there is still that widespread, ongoing destruction of Rohingya residential areas.”

“This, in particular, undercuts the message from the Myanmar government that they are willing to pursue a repatriation process.”

The report also said more than 320 Rohingya settlements which were destroyed in the violence have no indications of reconstruction, even though Yangon has promised to repatriate refugees back to their original villages.

The report said the data and images “cast doubt on the credibility of claims that refugees will be allowed to return to their homes.”

“Instead, we’ve found ongoing destruction of additional settlements and the construction of highly securitized camps and military bases that have been built, fortified or expanded on the sites of razed Rohingya settlements.”

The United Nations said the return of the Rohingya was contingent on being “voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable”, which would include freedom of movement, but the ASPI report said they were concerned about refugees being held in camps or highly-militarized areas.

The satellite images supported those concerns since there have been 45 camps either built or enlarged in Rakhine and at least six military facilities were built or expanded upon former Rohingya settlements.

Human rights organizations said returning the Rohingya back to those areas would amount to creating “open-air prisons.”

“Tt’s very likely that the majority of these new camps, especially the ones that are under construction, are designed for returning refugees,” said Ruser., Maureen Foody

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