Myanmar's government said it has repatriated the first family of Rohingya out of some 700,000 refugees who fled to Bangladesh to escape a brutal military campaign, despite United Nations warnings that a safe return is not yet possible.
The Myanmar government's step was slammed by rights groups as a publicity stunt which ignored warnings over the security of returnees, according to AFP.
The stateless Muslim minority have been massing in squalid refugee camps across the border in Bangladesh since the Myanmar army launched a brutal campaign against the community in northern Rakhine state in August.
Myanmar has strongly denied that allegation, saying the army waged a legitimate operation against insurgent Rohingya militants who had attacked more than two dozen police posts and an army base in August. Bangladesh has given Myanmar a list of more than 8,000 refugees to begin the repatriation, but it has been further delayed by a complicated verification process.
The agency also noted that in the absence of a UNHCR-Myanmar-Bangladesh agreement, it has continued to engage with both Governments in negotiations on two separate memoranda of understanding (MOUs), meant to ensure that any future returns are conducted in line with the global standards.
A statement posted on the official Facebook page of the government's Information Committee said "the five members of a family. came back to Taungpyoletwei town repatriation camp in Rakhine state this morning".
Bangladesh's refugee commissioner, Mohammad Abul Kalam, said the Rohingya family had been living in a camp erected on a patch of no man's land between the two countries, meaning Dhaka had no formal role in their return.
The reported repatriation comes days after Myanmar's social welfare minister, Win Myat Aye, visited a Rohingya camp in Bangladesh's border area of Cox's Bazar.
But Bangladesh's home minister Asaduzzaman said the reality was that the repatriation "has not started yet", adding that the single family's return was "not a meaningful act".
Photos posted alongside the statement showed a man, two women, a young girl and a boy receiving NVCs and getting health checks.
In a statement late on Saturday, Myanmar said it had repatriated the first Rohingya family from refugees who have fled to Bangladesh.
NVCs are part of the government's ongoing effort to register Rohingya which falls short of offering them citizenship.
Although the Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for many generations, most people in Myanmar consider them unwanted immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh and refer to them as "Bengalis, " a term the Rohingya consider derogatory.
They have been systematically stripped of their citizenship in recent decades and forced to live in apartheid-like conditions with severely restricted access to health care, education, and other basic services.
On Friday, UNHCR said that the "conditions in Myanmar are not yet conducive for returns to be safe, dignified and sustainable", adding that "the responsibility for creating such conditions remains with the Myanmar authorities, and these must go beyond the preparation of physical infrastructure to facilitate logistical arrangements".
The statement did not say whether any more repatriations were being planned.
Doctors Without Borders says the violence claimed at least 6,700 Rohingya lives in the first month alone.