Workers prepare a muddy field near newly established structures by the Burmese authorities outside of Maungdaw, Rakhine State, in January 2018. The structures will be part of the Taung Pyo Letwe receiving center for Rohingya refugees who They fled to Bangladesh to seek refuge from violence last year and are willing to return to Burma. (AFP / Getty Images)
NEW DELHI – Since August last year, more than half a million Rohingyas have embarked on dangerous journeys to Bangladesh to escape persecution and violence in Burma. Now, the first Rohingya family has been repatriated, the Burmese government said in a Facebook post on Saturday night, despite warnings from the United Nations that conditions in the country are not adequate for their return.  An estimate of [Rohan] of 687,000 Rohingya half of the total population of Burma, a stateless ethnic minority Muslim group, has left their homes in the northern state of Rakhine since the violence erupted in August and crossed into Bangladesh, settling in vast squalid refugee camps. Those who fled said they left due to rapes, fires and widespread murders. The United States government and the United Nations describe violence against the Rohingyas as "ethnic cleansing".
Burma has vigorously denied that accusation, saying that the army had carried out a legitimate operation against insurgent Rohingya militants who had attacked more than two dozen police posts and a military base in August.
The Rohingya exodus has created a humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh, a small and poor country that is one of the most densely populated in the world.
In an effort to address the crisis, Bangladesh and Burma signed an agreement in November to repatriate the Rohingya over the course of two years, starting in January. After months of delays, five members of a Rohingya family returned to Rakhine on Thursday.
A Facebook post on the official page of the Information Committee of Burma seems to show that the family receives medical check-ups and receives packages of rice, mosquito nets and blankets. "The five members of one family … returned to the repatriation camp in the city of Taungpyoletwei in Rakhine State this morning," the message said.
The images also show the family: a man, two women and a girl and a boy. receiving controversial national verification cards, which Rohingya activists have rejected, saying that they are a way of denying citizenship to the Rohingya people.
The Facebook publication does not mention other plans to repatriate more Rohingya. Bangladesh has given Burma a list of 8,000 refugees to start the process.
Although the Rohingya have lived in Burma for many generations, most Burmese consider them unwanted immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh and call them "Bengali," a term that the Rohingya deem derogatory.
The United Nations has warned that a mbadive repatriation of Rohingya would be premature. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said this week that "conditions in Myanmar are not yet conducive for returns to be safe, dignified and sustainable."
The waves of violence have forced Rohingya out of Burma in recent years, with more than 200,000 Rohingya refugees already in Bangladesh before last year's exodus. Many refuse to return without a guarantee of basic rights and citizenship.
The Rohingya who have been repatriated in the past have been forced to live in camps in Burma.
Meanwhile, ships carrying Rohingya from the Rakhine state continue to leave Burma. The latter, who was carrying 70 Rohingya, left Burma for Malaysia on Thursday, the same day that the family of five returned to Rakhine.