More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees who fled violence in Myanmar in 2017 now live in camps near Cox's Bazar in southern Bangladesh. But a British move in the UN to set a timeline for them to be returned may not succeed. Photo: AFP / Masfiqur Sohan
More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees who fled violence in Myanmar in 2017 now live in camps near Cox's Bazar in southern Bangladesh. The Bangladesh government wants to move some to a new location. Photo: AFP/Masfiqur Sohan

Russia and China, two permanent members of the UN Security Council, are boycotting talks on a British resolution to address the Rohingya refugee crisis – and may veto any move that would force Myanmar to take affirmative action or impose sanctions if nothing is done to address the issue, Reuters and other news outlets say.

A vote on a resolution in the 15-member UN Security Council would need nine in favor and no vetoes from any of its five permanent members — the US, Britain, France, Russia and China — to pass.

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told Reuters that the move was “inappropriate, untimely and useless”, while China’s Ma Zhaoxu did not comment.

The resolution, if passed, would put a timeline on Myanmar allowing the return of more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees from Bangladesh and seeking accountability for rights abuses perpetrated by the Myanmar military during violent crackdowns on the civilian population in northern Rakhine State in 2016 and 2017.

But according to a special Reuters report, dated December 18, any such repatriation seems extremely unlikely as satellite images show that new settlements have been built in areas previously populated by Rohingyas and information from the ground indicates that non-Muslims from Rakhine State and other parts of Myanmar have already been resettled there.

In Bangladesh, housing that is much more solid than the huts in the refugee camps near Cox’s Bazar has been built on an island off the southeastern coast, where at least some of the Rohingyas could be housed.

According to observers in Bangladesh and Myanmar, all this means that a Palestine-style situation with a permanent refugee population could be emerging across the border in Bangladesh.

Bilateral deal opposed by UN agencies

The latest move in the United Nations comes after UN agencies opposed an agreement last month between Bangladesh and Myanmar to start repatriating Rohingya refugees to Rakhine state.

China welcomed the bilateral deal agreed on October 30 to begin the returns to Myanmar in mid-November. However, UNHCR said that conditions in Rakhine state were “not yet conducive for returns”.

And the UN’s human rights investigator on Myanmar warned that any refugees sent back to Rakhine state would face a “high risk of persecution”.

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