The first wave of Rohingya refugee repatriations to Myanmar is expected to begin in mid-November, despite UN concerns
The two governments reached the agreement on Tuesday after representatives met for the third time in Dhaka the day before, almost a week after the UN issued a report outlining continued atrocities in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
U Aung Kyaw Zan, Myanmar’s deputy permanent secretary of Foreign Affairs, said Myanmar would only repatriate verified refugees. The government has verified more than 5,000 of the over 8,000 names submitted by the Bangladeshi government for verification.
Myint Thu, a senior foreign ministry official who led the Myanmar delegation, hailed the talks as a concrete result towards beginning repatriation. “We have put in place a number of measures to make sure that the returnees will have a secure environment for their return,” he announced to reporters after the meeting in Dhaka.
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) warned Tuesday that the conditions in Myanmar’s Rakhine state are not yet suitable for the refugees to return.
“It is critical that returns are not rushed or premature. We would advise against imposing any timetables or target figures for repatriation.” Reuters reported Andrej Mahecic, the spokesman for the UN High Commission for Refugees, as saying. Mahecic added that such returns must be voluntary.
Many Rohingya refugees fear they will face danger if they return to Myanmar, with some leaders of the Rohingya community saying they will not return without the Myanmar government agreeing to several demands, such as the right of Myanmar citizenship.
Mohib Ullah, a Rohingya leader who now lives in southeast Bangladesh told Reuters: “We have some demands but the government of Myanmar didn’t do anything to meet them. How can we go back? What about our citizenships, or rights and our demand to go back to our land…our own houses?
A UNHCR report released last Wednesday details how the Myanmar security forces – known as the Tatmadaw – are still committing atrocities against the Rohingya. The 444-page report called for the issue to be taken to the International Criminal Court in The Hague to establish an international tribunal to prosecute Myanmar’s army general Min Aung Hlaing and five other generals for genocide and crimes against humanity.
The military continues to deny these claims, while the country’s civilian leader, Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has been largely silent on the issue.
Myanmar and Bangladesh signed the Arrangement on the Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State in November 2017, although little progress had been made.
In August 2017, Rohingya insurgent attacks on the Myanmar security forces triggered a massive crackdown against the ethnic group, which resulted in over 700,000 Rohingyas fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh. The long-persecuted Rohingya are a Muslim, state-less minority in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar.