UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 7 (Xinhua) -- The two lead UN agencies for the Rohingya in Bangladesh said on Friday they are ready to assess Rakhine State villages in Myanmar in preparation for return of the refugees.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the UN Development Program (UNDP) are prepared to begin assessments of 23 villages in Myanmar's northern Rakhine State, said Stephane Dujarric, a UN spokesman.
The announcement comes three months after the UNHCR, the UNDP and the government of Myanmar signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on conditions for the returns, he said.
"Assessments in the initial list of villages are part of a broader work-plan that has been under discussion with Myanmar authorities since July," the spokesman said.
"By commencing with needs assessments to identify and implement quick-impact projects, UNHCR and UNDP hope to jump start confidence building measures aimed at rebuilding trust and social cohesion with those communities that remain in Rakhine State," he said.
According to the UNHCR, over 720,000 Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority living in mostly Buddhist Myanmar's northern Rakhine State, have fled to Bangladesh since violence broke out in August 2017.
They joined another 200,000 Rohingya who earlier fled into adjacent Bangladesh, said the UNHCR.
The UN has long maintained the refugees should not return unless they do so voluntarily, with dignity to sites they choose. It has also sought greater access in northern Rakhine State.