A U.N. human rights envoy said Friday that hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees won’t be able to return to Myanmar soon because of threats to their safety in the Buddhist-majority nation.

Myanmar has been criticized by global rights groups and many nations for state-sponsored violence against ethnic minorities.

Yanghee Lee, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, also criticized India and Saudi Arabia for mistreatment of the Rohingya in those countries amid global calls for protections for Rohingya Muslims.

Lee spent 10 days in Thailand and Bangladesh, speaking to people from Myanmar, authorities, U.N. agencies and international experts. More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees have fled into Bangladesh since late August 2017.

“It is clear that Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh cannot return to Myanmar in the near future,” she said.

She said violence against the Rohingya by the Myanmar army in Rakhine state that prompted them to flee to neighboring Bangladesh “bear the hallmarks of genocide.” Myanmar has repeatedly turned down her request for allowing her to visit the country.

Lee told journalists she was disturbed by reports of new violence in Rakhine state and she accused Myanmar of failing to create a peaceful environment so the refugees could return from Bangladesh.

“The campaign of violence against the Rohingya continues, with the security forces slowly bleeding the remaining Rohingya population and continuing to force them to flee to Bangladesh,” she said.

Lee added: “From the discussions I had with Rohingya this week in Bangladesh, it is evident that Myanmar is not working to create conditions for return for the Rohingya but is engaging in a sustained campaign of violence, intimidation and harassment.”

Lee said she was dismayed by Saudi Arabia’s recent deportation of 13 Rohingya to Bangladesh, where they have been arrested and charged with forging the passports that they used to travel to Saudi Arabia.

She also said about 1,300 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh from after Indian authorities deported them to Myanmar, and they crossed into Bangladesh from Myanmar.

The exodus of Rohingya began after Myanmar security forces launched a brutal crackdown following attacks by an insurgent group on guard posts in late August in 2017. The scale, organization and ferocity of the crackdown led the U.N. and several governments to accuse Myanmar of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Most people in Myanmar do not accept that the Rohingya Muslims are a native ethnic group, calling them as “Bengalis” who entered from Bangladesh centuries ago. Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, as well as access to education and hospitals.

Yanghee Lee, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, holds a news conference after visiting Rohingya refugee camps in Cox's Bazar, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Friday, Jan. (AP Photo)
Yanghee Lee, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, holds a news conference after visiting Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Friday, Jan. (AP Photo)

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