COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh — Bangladesh has signed a deal to involve the United Nations in the controversial process of returning Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, a minister said Monday.
Junior foreign minister Shahriar Alam said the government was involving the UN refugee agency so that it could not be accused of sending anyone from the stateless Muslim minority back against their will.
He gave few details, but said refugees would be asked to fill out repatriation forms in the presence of UN officials.
Bangladesh reached a deal with Myanmar late last year to repatriate the nearly 700,000 Rohingya who have fled across the border since August to escape a brutal military crackdown.
That was meant to start last month, but was delayed by a lack of preparations and protests by Rohingya refugees, most of whom say they do not wish to return without guarantees of safety.
“We have repeatedly said this repatriation process is very complex,” Alam told reporters.
“We want to fill up the (repatriation) forms in their (UN) presence so that no one can say they been forced by someone or sent back against their will,” he told reporters at a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh’s southeastern border district of Cox’s Bazar.
There was no immediate comment from the UN, which has said previously that any repatriation must be voluntary.
Alam urged patience and said Bangladesh did not want to send back the refugees only to have them return, as has happened after past rounds of repatriation.
Bangladesh “wants to make sure the situation in Myanmar is safe and secure”, he said.
Refugees are still entering Bangladesh with claims of rights abuses by Buddhist mobs and the military.
Many have lost their homes to arson attacks in their native Rakhine State, where witnesses and rights groups say entire Rohingya settlements have been burned to the ground.