Myanmar plans to begin the repatriation of its nationals from Bangladesh on January 22 with a group of 450 Hindu refugees.
A refugee camp has been set up at Taungpyoleiwei in northwestern Rakhine State for those returning overland from Bangladesh, and a second one at Ngakhuya in Maungdaw Township for those returning by sea or waterways.
Win Myat Aye, Myanmar minister for social welfare, relief and resettlement, made the announcement after talks between the government and representatives of Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) in Naypyitaw yesterday, reports the Democratic Voice of Burma, a Myanmarese news organisation based in Thailand.
Seeking anonymity, a senior diplomat at the Myanmar Embassy in Dhaka told The Daily Star yesterday, “Arrangements are being made to receive the displaced people from Rakhine from January 22 on completion of two months since the signing of the repatriation agreement,” the Myanmar diplomat said.
As per the agreement signed between Dhaka and Naypyitaw on November 23, the repatriation process must start within two months of its signing.
In the first phase, Dhaka is expected to hand over a list of one lakh Myanmar nationals staying in Bangladesh.
However, it could not be known how many Rohingyas will be repatriated in the first phase as the Joint Working Group (JWG) is yet to complete the physical arrangements.
The Myanmar government has already sent application/verification forms for its Hindu nationals. But it could not be known whether it also sent such forms for the Muslim refugees.
Yesterday, the draft of the physical arrangements for Rohingya repatriation was finalised at an inter-ministerial meeting at the foreign ministry and also at the meeting of the National Taskforce on Implementation of Strategy on Myanmar Refugees and Undocumented Myanmar Nationals.
Talking to reporters, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam said the first meeting of the JWG will be held in Naypyitaw by January 15, and the detailed physical arrangements for the repatriation will be finalised there.
The Bangladesh government has already completed the database of 923,000 Rohingyas with fingerprints and other necessary information. Of them, 19,000 are displaced orphan children who arrived in Bangladesh during the persecution, he said.
Asked whether it would be possible to begin the repatriation within the stipulated time, the state minister said it may be delayed by a few days but not more than that.
An estimated 655,000 forcibly displaced Rohingyas have fled Myanmar and taken shelter in Bangladesh to escape persecution by the Myanmar military after a group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army allegedly carried out attacks on police posts on August 25, killing 12 members of the security forces.
Talking to this newspaper, the senior diplomat at the Myanmar Embassy said the returnees will be initially kept at the two camps.
Later, the Rohingyas whose houses were not destroyed would be allowed to go back to their homes. But those who lost their houses in the attacks have to stay temporarily in the barracks until new houses are built for them said the diplomat.
During their stay at the temporary camps, the Myanmar Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement will arrange for their food and needs. They will also be able to earn by working at construction sites under the plan “Cash for Work”, the diplomat mentioned.
In a press release yesterday, the Myanmar Embassy in Dhaka said Myanmar ministries are working with all the parties concerned to accommodate the returnees in time.
“The principled position of Myanmar is that disputes between neighbouring countries must be resolved amicably through bilateral negotiations,” it said.
As per the repatriation agreement signed on November 23, Myanmar will provide the necessary forms to be filled by the prospective returnees. They need copies of documents issued in Myanmar indicating their residence, such as old and expired citizenship ID cards/national registration cards/ temporary registration cards (white cards) and any other documents issued by the relevant Myanmar authorities or other documents or information such as addresses, reference to household and other particulars and information.
However, foreign affairs and migration experts cast doubt about “safe and voluntary” return of the refugees as the stringent verification conditions may obstruct smooth repatriation.
Doctors Without Borders believes at least 6,700 Rohingyas were killed during “clearance operations” since August 25 ostensibly targeting militants. Many survivors say women and girls were gang-raped during the operations.
Meanwhile, MNHRC Chairman U Win Mra had a meeting with Myanmar Minister Win Myat Aye in Naypyitaw to discuss the arrangement for resettlement and rehabilitation of the Rohingyas.
MNHRC chief said a delegation visited the Maungtaw region in Rakhine in December 11-15 and found that there were anxieties about the displaced people.
“At the time when the commission reached there, arrangements for the displaced [Muslim] families in the country, Rakhine nationals and national ethnic minorities had clearly been found, with the arrangements for accepting those who would arrive back from Bangladesh found to have not yet been ready,” says a press release of Myanmar's information ministry available on its website.
But Win Myat Aye claimed, “Situations were different between the two periods -- the time of the commission's trip and the present time.”