Bangladesh on Friday handed over a list of more than 8,000 Rohingya to Myanmar as it moves to kick-start their repatriation weeks after the process was halted due to lack of preparation.
Dhaka’s home minister Asaduzzaman Khan formally gave the list to his Myanmar counterpart Lieutenant General Kyaw Swe after officials of the two nations held a meeting in the Bangladeshi capital. “We’ve today handed over a list of 8,032 people from 1,673 families to them. The [Myanmar] delegation received it very cordially and told us they would start processing their repatriation,” Khan told reporters.
Bangladesh reached a deal with Myanmar late last year to repatriate nearly 700,000 Rohingya who have fled across the border since August to escape a brutal military crackdown. That was meant to start last month, but was delayed by a lack of preparation and protests by Rohingya refugees, most of whom say they do not wish to return without guarantees of safety.
Khan said more than one million Rohingya now live in squalid camps in Bangladesh’s southeast and Dhaka hoped all of them would be repatriated to Myanmar. “We discussed how would they repatriate these people. The Myanmar delegation was very cordial about it and said they will take them back gradually,” he said.
Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner Abul Kalam told AFP Dhaka had already started construction of a transit camp and would start building another next week to facilitate the return of the Rohingya.
This week Bangladesh’s junior foreign minister said they had signed a deal to involve the United Nations in the process of returning Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. He said the government was involving the U.N. refugee agency so that it could not be accused of sending anyone from the stateless Muslim minority back against their will.
He gave few details, but said refugees would be asked to fill out repatriation forms in the presence of U.N. officials. But Rohingya refugees are still entering Bangladesh with claims of rights abuses by Buddhist mobs and the military in their native Rakhine state.
Home minister Khan acknowledged people were still crossing the border. “The [Myanmar] delegation has admitted it and told us they will try their best to stop it as soon as possible,” he said
Many Rohingya have lost their homes to arson attacks in their villages, where witnesses and rights groups say entire Rohingya settlements have been burned to the ground. New arrivals have brought harrowing tales of rape, murder and torture.
The Rohingya also want guarantees of citizenship before returning to Myanmar, which views them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh even though many have been there for generations. Khan said there was no specific timeframe to start the repatriation but he hoped it would start soon.
“No specific date came for repatriation but they showed sincerity and are taking preparations to take their nationals back,” he said. He urged Myanmar to ensure the refugees’ return was “sustainable,” adding the Rohingya “may face difficulties in resettling back into their land.”
The two sides also discussed the fate of some 6,000 Rohingya refugees who have been stranded in no man’s land on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border since September. “They said they have started processing repatriation of those refugees living on the [border’s] zero line,” Khan said, adding Myanmar has “requested” a joint meeting on their repatriation on Feb. 20.
Last week a Myanmar government minister told refugees stranded on the border that they should take up a government offer to return, warning they will face “consequences” if they stay where they are.
A video circulated on social media apparently shows Myanmar’s Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Aung Soe addressing a group of refugees through a barbed wire fence last Friday.