Rakhine Immigration authorities vow to ‘take action’ on unvetted returnees


TAUNGPYO LETWE, Rakhine State — The immigration chief of Maungdaw District says authorities will prevent entry of any person deemed to not have resided in Myanmar before the most recent rounds of violence in Rakhine State.

“We won’t accept anyone who has not been scrutinised and if some people are found to be citizens of [Bangladesh], we can take action with the related laws,” Maungdaw Immigration Department director Ko Ko Thaw told reporters on Wednesday.

Preparations are underway to accommodate the return and resettlement of around 700,000 Rohingya refugees to have fled northern Rakhine State since October 2016, following the finalisation of a bilateral deal between Myanmar and Bangladesh on January 16.

Refugee returns were scheduled to begin on Tuesday but Bangladesh announced a postponement the day before, with Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mr Mohammad Abul Kalam citing the need for further preparation.

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U Zaw Htay, the spokesperson for the Office of State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, said the Myanmar government had not received any official communication from Dhaka on the delay.

On the ground in Maungdaw, local officials are also in the dark.

“We don’t know too much about the upper level, we’re just waiting for our orders,” said U Ye Htoo, the deputy director of the Maungdaw District General Administration Department.

On Wednesday, Rakhine State Chief Minister U Nyi Pu visited temporary camps and processing centres at the border village of Taungpyo Letwe, which will be the first entry point for refugees returning to Myanmar.

Further camps and facilities are being built at Ngakhura village, for refugees returning across the Naf River.

According to the government’s plan, returnees held at these locations will be sent to Hla Pho Kaung and Oh Htain villages, where Muslim and Hindu returnees will be housed separately.

U Ko Ko Thaw, director of the Maungdaw District Immigration Department. (Mratt Kyaw Thu | Frontier)

U Ko Ko Thaw, director of the Maungdaw District Immigration Department. (Mratt Kyaw Thu | Frontier)

“All those people will be processed through biometric printing and of course National Verification Cards,” said U Ko Ko Thaw. “We are all set up for that as we brought machines and papers.”

Frontier visited the new facilities on Wednesday. Work at Taungpyo Letwe has finished, while the main camps at Hla Pho Khaung and Oh Htain are still being built.

In addition to wooden domiciles, tents have been erected at Hla Pho Khaung to house additional returnees. Facilities appear equipped to accommodate up to 1,000 people.  

Government spokespeople maintain that Myanmar is ready to accept returnees.

Officials in Bangladesh have said that the repatriation process will be concluded after two years, but Myanmar has pledged to accept 1,500 refugees per week. At that rate, it would take nearly nine years to repatriate all those who fled.

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