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DHAKA, Bangladesh, September 9 (UNHCR) - As a journalist, Kyaw Zin Moe makes the news every day. But now he is in the spotlight for a different reason: Kyaw, his wife and baby have become the first Myanmar refugee family to be assisted home by UNHCR in Bangladesh.
Encouraged by positive developments in Myanmar in recent years, some refugee families have already returned on their own from neighbouring Bangladesh. Kyaw is the first to request UNHCR support for his journey. He is clearly excited about what is going on in his home country.
"Myanmar is establishing democracy," said the ethnic Rakhine refugee, aged 34. "Things will not change overnight. We shall all go back to make the changes happen."
On Friday, his family left Dhaka, flew to Bangkok and on to the Myanmar capital, Yangon, from where they took a bus back to their village in Myan Aung, west of Yangon. The return marks the end of a long journey for them.
Kyaw fled Myanmar in 1997 for Thailand, where he tried to survive by working on a fishing boat. After a few months, he was arrested by the Bangladesh Border Guard when his boat drifted into Bangladeshi waters. Charged with illegal entry, he was imprisoned for a year. As his term came to an end, he filed an asylum application with UNHCR in Bangladesh. He was recognised as a refugee and released in 2001 with the agency's help.
Kyaw completed Grade 10 before he left Myanmar. He never stopped studying in Bangladesh, learning the Bengali language and computer skills with UNHCR subsidies. He taught himself English. In recent years, he received journalism training and worked as a reporter for the Democratic Voice of Burma and Irrawaddy magazine. He also married a fellow refugee from Myanmar and has a son, now seven months old.
Last year Kyaw decided it was time to return home. He approached the Myanmar Embassy in Dhaka and applied for, and received, travel documents for himself and his family members after six months.
He sees a clear role for himself back home, and has accepted a job as a correspondent. "Journalism is weak in Myanmar," he said. "After returning home, I will work with my friends to train people to be reporters. It is important that the media can play a monitoring role in the country."
Inspired by similar enthusiasm, many of the 200 non-Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are considering return. Most of them have been displaced in Bangladesh for more than 10 years, and there are now indications that they may be able to go home soon.
However, this option does not exist for the over 200,000 Rohingya in Bangladesh, including 30,000 in two official refugee camps and an estimated 200,000 living in makeshift sites and in host communities. Some fled Myanmar's Rakhine state up to 20 years ago. Myanmar does not recognise them as citizens and there are no durable solutions in sight.
UNHCR has been advocating with the Myanmar government to urgently address the root causes of the Rohingya's displacement, including by promoting reconciliation, peaceful co-existence and economic development in Rakhine state. Practical measures could also be taken to ensure that all communities can enjoy basic rights and have access to citizenship. UNHCR has offered technical assistance to the Myanmar government in this respect.
By Song Jing in Dhaka, Bangladesh