Myanmar side due this month
Amid growing international pressure to hold its military accountable for the brutal crackdown on the Rohingya, Myanmar is sending a high-powered delegation to Dhaka late this month to finalise preparations for the start of the Rohingya repatriation.
Diplomatic sources confirmed that 15 senior Myanmar officials, also members of the Bangladesh-Myanmar Joint Working Group (JWG), would arrive in Dhaka on October 29 on a four-day visit to hold talks with Bangladeshi officials on the possible dates for beginning the repatriation.
The two neighbours had formed the 30-member JWG, with 15 members from each side, in December last year to oversee the repatriation.
Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque and Permanent Secretary Myint Thu of the Myanmar foreign ministry will lead their respective sides to the JWG meeting.
After attending the meeting in Dhaka on October 30, the Myanmar delegation will visit the refugee camps in Cox's Bazar the following day to see the ground situation. The team will depart from Bangladesh on November 1.
Officials at Bangladesh foreign and home ministries hinted that the first batch of 8,000 Rohingya refugees would be sent back to Myanmar by December.
They said Myanmar has already given clearance for the repatriation of the 8,000 Rohingyas after conducting lengthy verifications. Besides, verifications of several thousand other Rohingyas were underway.
A top government official said Bangladesh wanted the repatriation and verification to go on simultaneously.
Over 720,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh since August 25 last year escaping a brutal military crackdown on the minority community in Rakhine state. The Bangladesh government says over 1.1 million forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals have been living in the country for years.
Dhaka wants to make sure that houses and other facilities have been arranged in Rakhine for the first batch of the returnees.
Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali on Monday said, “We have completed the village-wise verifications of 8,000 Rohingyas to know who came from which village. We want to make sure they can start living in houses in their villages.”
According to diplomatic sources, India has almost completed construction of 250 pre-fabricated houses in Rakhine and China has pledged to build another 1,000 soon to facilitate the repatriation.
However, some UN bodies and rights organisations have been insisting that conditions in Rakhine were “not conducive to safe, dignified and sustainable return” of Rohingya refugees.
The UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar in its 444-page report last month strongly recommended that Myanmar's top military generals, including Commander-in-Chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, must be investigated and prosecuted for genocide in northern Rakhine, as well as for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Rakhine.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged all UN bodies and the global community to seriously consider the recommendations of the fact-finding mission.
On September 18, a prosecutor of the International Criminal Court opened a preliminary probe into Myanmar's alleged crimes against Rohingyas, including killings, sexual violence and forced deportations.
Talking to The Daily Star, Myanmar Ambassador to Bangladesh Lwin Oo said he was optimistic about getting fruitful results from the upcoming JWG meeting in Dhaka.
He said upon their return to Myanmar, the displaced people would go through a process before being granted National Verification Card (NVC) in accordance with the 1982 Citizenship Law, the 1949 Myanmar Citizens Registration Act and the Registration of Residents in the Union of Myanmar Act-1949.
They would be issued with “an appropriate type of citizenship” within a few months, he added.
Bangladesh foreign ministry officials said Dhaka has requested Naypyidaw to take steps to address the unwillingness of the prospective returnees to accept the NVC.
They said Myanmar has agreed to send teams to the Cox's Bazar camps to explain the advantages of having an NVC to the returnees and also to inform them about various steps taken by Myanmar on their repatriation.
Officials said the two countries agreed to set up five transit camps in Bangladeshi territory from where refugees would be repatriated to reception centres in Taung Pyo Letwe and Nga Khu Ya in Myanmar.
Hla Phoe Khaung village in Maungdaw township will be used as a transit camp for the repatriated Rohingyas before sending them back to their homes in Rakhine.