Japan’s foreign minister has urged Burma’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, to guarantee the safe and voluntary return of Rohingya Muslims who have fled violence in troubled Rakhine state.
While Taro Kono is visiting Burma, the Japanese government announced a grant of $3m (almost €2.5m) to help facilitate the repatriation of the Rohingyas.
Burma and Bangladesh signed an agreement on the repatriation of Rohingya refugees on November 23, and Burma, also known as Myanmar, said it would start the process by January 23. The exact numbers and extent of the repatriation is still unclear.
“We have decided to provide the aid in response to the agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh to represent an international message of support so that the repatriation can be carried out promptly,” said Japanese Foreign Ministry official Shinobu Yamaguchi.
Mr Kono’s three-day visit to Burma includes travelling to Rakhine state. Humanitarian groups and independent media are banned from travelling to the area freely. More than 650,000 Rohingyas have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape a brutal crackdown in which security forces have been accused of systematic abuses tantamount to ethnic cleansing.
During a meeting on Friday, Mr Kono asked Ms Suu Kyi’s government to allow humanitarian and media access to the affected area, the resettlement of returned refugees, and the implementation of recommendations made by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.
Mr Kono also said Japan plans to give further aid of $20m (€16.5m) to improve humanitarian conditions and development in Rakhine state. “We are thankful to Japan for its willingness to support the needs both for short term and long term,” Ms Suu Kyi said at the joint news conference.
Mr Yamaguchi stressed that Japan will monitor how the repatriation will be carried out. “The money will be paid in a timely manner based on the progress of repatriation,” he added.
Burma’s state-run media said on Wednesday that authorities have started the land work to construct buildings to accommodate returned refugees from Bangladesh in northern Rakhine, where refugees will be temporarily placed after their citizenship is scrutinised.