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17 August, 2019 00:00 00 AM
Rohingya crisis

Bangladesh eyes new repatriation attempt

AFP, Dhaka
Bangladesh eyes new repatriation attempt

Bangladesh and Myanmar are considering a fresh attempt next week to repatriate a few of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled a military crackdown two years ago, Dhaka officials said yesterday. Some 740,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in August 2017 from a military offensive in Myanmar that the United Nations likened to ethnic cleansing, joining 200,000 already there.

The two nations signed a repatriation deal later that year but virtually no Rohingya have volunteered to return to Myanmar, where the group has faced decades of repression. A previous attempt in November 2018 to return 2,260 Rohingya on a repatriation list fell flat, with those earmarked to return refusing to leave without guarantees for their safety.

The mooted new push follows a visit last month to hill camps that are home to the Rohingya by high-ranking officials from Myanmar led by Permanent Foreign Secretary Myint Thu. Bangladesh's foreign ministry has forwarded a list of more than 22,000 refugees to Myanmar for verification and Naypyidaw cleared 3,450 individuals for ‘return’.

Dhaka later forwarded the list to the UN's refugee agency seeking its assistance to survey the refugees' ‘intentions regarding repatriation’. Kimberley Phillips, the UNHCR spokeswoman in Yangon, said they would "meet with those who express an interest in returning -- in a confidential setting -- to confirm that voluntariness".

Top Bangladeshi foreign ministry official Delowar Hossain told AFP there were “possibilities” for the repatriation of the cleared individuals within a few days. “However we cannot confirm anything yet,” he said. Another top official from the ministry said on condition of anonymity that the possible repatriation has been slated for Thursday August 22.

However Rohingya community leaders expressed “grave concern” saying they were not aware of any repatriation plan. They said no refugees would return without confirmation of their preconditions — safety, security and citizenship.

Mohib Ullah, a top community leader, said nobody shared any information about the repatriation attempt. “We don’t know what is happening... We will only repatriate through dialogues (about the preconditions). Without dialogues, no repatriation,” he told AFP. Myanmar has till now denied the minority citizenship and refers to them as “Bengalis” — inferring that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

The massive camps in southeast Bangladesh have sparked tensions between the neighbours, with Bangladesh blaming Myanmar for delays in repatriating the refugees.

Dhaka said it would not force any Rohingya to leave while Myanmar has faced international pressure to allow the refugees to return and grant them citizenship rights.

The UN complained the progress to address the refugee crisis has been far too slow.

Our diplomatic correspondent adds: Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told journalists in late July that repatriation of Rohingyas would begin before September.

He said: “We have obtained assurance from different places in this regard. But all depends on Myanmar as they have created the problem and only they can solve it. Repatriation will begin before the UN General Assembly session in September.”

The foreign minister made the statement when a 19-member Myanmar delegation, led by the permanent secretary of Foreign Affairs, Myint Thu, visited Rohingya camps at Ukhiya in Cox’s Bazar on July 27.

During his visit, Myint Thu and his team had long discussions with the Rohingya people on various issues, including their right to citizenship.

The delegation went to visit the Rohingyas to assure them that a congenial environment has been created in Rakhine, from where they had been forcibly displaced by the Myanmarese army, for their safe and dignified return.

However, the Rohingyas repeatedly said they wanted to get their citizenship while the visiting team assured them that they would be given the citizenship under the Myanmar Citizenship Act 1982 with some conditions.

But the Rohingyas did not agree. They demanded citizenship in accordance with any other citizens of Myanmar.

During their visit, Bangladesh handed over a fresh list of 25,000 Rohingyas, belonging to about 6,000 families, to the head of the visiting Myanmar delegation to facilitate their repatriation.

Sources said Bangladesh has so far handed over a list of 55,000 Rohingyas to the Myanmar authorities, but not a single Rohingya has been taken back.


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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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