Bangladesh eyes new Rohingya repatriation attempt next week


DHAKA — 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 Friday.

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.

Support more independent journalism like this. Sign up to be a Frontier member.

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 U 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”.

Ms 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 Mr 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.

Mr 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 til 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.

More stories

Latest Issue

Stories in this issue
Myanmar enters 2021 with more friends than foes
The early delivery of vaccines is one of the many boons of the country’s geopolitics, but to really take advantage, Myanmar must bury the legacy of its isolationist past.
Will the Kayin BGF go quietly?
The Kayin State Border Guard Force has come under intense pressure from the Tatmadaw over its extensive, controversial business interests and there’s concern the ultimatum could trigger fresh hostilities in one of the country’s most war-torn areas.

Support our independent journalism and get exclusive behind-the-scenes content and analysis

Stay on top of Myanmar current affairs with our Daily Briefing and Media Monitor newsletters.

Sign up for our Frontier Fridays newsletter. It’s a free weekly round-up featuring the most important events shaping Myanmar