Rohingya crisis / Bangladesh delays repatriation of refugees

By: Thomas Brent - Posted on: January 24, 2018 | Current Affairs

Humans rights groups have welcomed the delay, saying issues central to the Rakhine conflict, namely the issue of Rohingya citizenship, have not been addressed

A Rohingya woman stands at the door of her makeshift shack in the Jamtoli refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh on 12 December 2017 Photo: Tracey Nearmy/EPA

The repatriation deal that would see hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims living in Bangladesh refugee camps returning to Myanmar has been delayed after a list verifying the details of the returning people was unable to be completed by Bangladeshi authorities.

The two countries reached a deal earlier this month that agreed that the repatriation, which was to start on January 23, would take two years to complete.

Though this deadline has been on the horizon since the deal was first broached back in November, Bangladesh has yet to confirm when the process to resettle the Rohingya refugees will actually begin.

The delay, however, may come as a welcome relief to some of the refugees living on Bangladesh’s border, as they are reportedly reluctant to return to a country where they fear they will only be returning to violence that forced them to flee their homes just a few months ago.

In an interview given with Aljazeera, refugee Abdul Faiz, who currently lives in a Bangladeshi camp, said he and his family did not wish to return to return to Myanmar.

“If we die here at least we get a funeral, if we are killed in Myanmar there is no funeral, the dead are just burned,” said Faiz.

He is not the only one to welcome the postponement, with the head of the United Nation’s refugee agency UNHCR stating that more time was needed to prepare if the repatriation was to be effective in the long-term.

“You need to really address a number of issues that for the time being we have heard nothing about,” UNHCR head Filippo Grandi told Reuters.

Grandi went on to list several essential details that have yet to be discussed ahead of the repatriation, including the issue of citizenship, the rights of the Rohingya people in Rakhine State and access to services.

Amnesty International, who has previously condemned the deal for being too rushed, agreed with the UNHCR’s stance and even “welcomed” the delay, explaining that moving ahead without making the necessary arrangements could pose a potential threat to the returning refugees.

“Implementing a returns arrangement finalized last week in its current form would put the safety and rights of more than 650,000 Rohingya who fled a brutal military crackdown last year in serious jeopardy,” Voice of America reported the UK-based human rights group as saying.

The plan

In a special report prepared by Al Jazeera, the news outlet maps out how the plan would involve three stages to be properly executed.

First, Bangladesh would need to compile a list of all the names of the refugees living in camps and then hand that over to Myanmar for examination and verification. Myanmar would then return the list. The last step would see the Bangladesh authorities asking the refugees if they would like to return or not.

Despite this process being delayed on the Bangladesh side, the director general of Myanmar’s Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement said they were ready to accommodate the returning Rohingya.

“We are ready to accept them once they come back. On our part, the preparation is ready,” director general Ko Ko Naing told Reuters.

Myanmar has already begun the construction of temporary camps capable of holding 30,000 people. Refugees will be lodged at these camps before they are allowed to return to their original home, or somewhere nearby.

The Rohingya have long been considered stateless, falling outside the list of national ethnicities that were included with the passing of the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law.

Since then, the approximately 1 million people that make up the Muslim minority have faced persecution and on numerous occasions been the victims of violent attacks, the most recent of which prompted hundreds of thousands of people to flee across the border into Bangladesh.

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