Published: Wed, November 14, 2018
Worldwide | By Myra Stephens

Myanmar preparing for 1st Rohingya returnees

Myanmar preparing for 1st Rohingya returnees

Senior Myanmar officials said they would do their best to be ready, but Bangladesh's repatriation commissioner said he was unaware that a date had been set.

The fresh diplomatic row started after a Bangladesh border guard official said that a 15-year-old Rohingya refugee was shot in the elbow on November 4 while grazing cows after multiple rounds were fired from a security post across the demarcation line.

China is "happy" that Bangladesh and Myanmar have reached a deal to start repatriating hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees to Rakhine, its government's top diplomat said on Friday.

Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Win Myat Aye said Sunday at a news conference that Bangladesh had informed Myanmar authorities that repatriation, agreed upon in principle months ago, would begin on that date. "We have done that".

The overwhelming majority of people in Myanmar do not accept that the Rohingya are a native ethnic group, instead seeing them as illegal migrants from Bangladesh and calling them "Bengalis". He said, 'The return will be electives.

UNHCR spokesman Mr Firas Al-Khateeb confirmed this, but added that it had not yet fully resolved the issue despite the tight timeframe.

Mohammad Ismail, who lives in Jamtoli refugee camp in Cox's Bazar with his wife and six children, said: "Around me there are 13 other families who have been told that they are on the list but do not know how". Fearing more violence, around 20 individuals who are on the first list have said they are not willing to move.

UNHCR spokesperson Caroline Gluck said the agency would "not be facilitating the returns nor be providing transport or any other assistance" because it did not believe that the conditions in Rakhine state were safe or that the rights of the Rohingya particularly their guarantee of citizenship, could be assured.

While Bangladesh has insisted that all repatriations will be voluntary, there is evidence that pressure is being put on Rohingya refugees on the list, who are being told by Bangladesh officials to be "ready to leave".

"The return will be voluntary".

A total of 42 aid agencies and NGOS said this week that Rohingya in the camps in Bangladesh were "terrified" about the prospect of coming back.

The Rohingya exodus began after Myanmar security forces launched a brutal crackdown following coordinated insurgent attacks in August 2017.

United Nations investigators have called for the country's top military brass to be prosecuted for genocide at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over last year's crackdown. Myanmar's government has denied this.

More than 720,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar's western Rakhine state in a military crackdown in August a year ago. "Although we still think that the conditions are not conducive now for the refugees to return in Myanmar", he told AFP.

The UNHCR said Myanmar authorities should allow refugees to assess the conditions in Rakhine themselves before taking the decision on their return.

Meanwhile, Myanmar Minister Win Myat Aye said preparations had been made for 2,251 people to be transported to two transit centres by boat on Thursday, while a second group of 2,095 could follow later by road.

Returnees would only be allowed to travel within Maungdaw township, one of the three areas they fled, and only if they accepted National Verification Cards, an identity document most Rohingya reject because they say it brands them as foreigners.

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