Bangladesh and the UNHCR are set to sign today a Memorandum of Understanding on the repatriation of Rohingyas, who fled violence in Rakhine and took shelter in Cox's Bazar in the months following August last year.
Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque and the UN refugee agency's High Commissioner Filippo Grandi are scheduled to sign the MoU in Geneva today, said a UN official in Dhaka.
“Under the deal, UNHCR will arrange the repatriation. This includes taking consent of the refugees on voluntary return, maintaining transit camps, transports and other logistics,” said Bangladesh's Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Abul Kalam.
For the repatriation, the UNHCR will be providing necessary protection, support and funding until the Rohingyas are handed over to Myanmar authorities, he said.
There will be two transit camps inside Bangladesh where the returning Rohingyas will stay for a short period before they are repatriated to Rakhine.
Some 700,000 Rohingyas fled atrocities by Myanmar security forces after last August. The UN has termed the atrocities as ethnic cleansing and said the violence had hallmarks of genocide as thousands of Rohingyas were killed and raped.
Amid global criticism, Myanmar rushed to sign a bilateral repatriation deal with Bangladesh in November last year, but the UN and Rohingyas said the conditions in Rakhine state were not conducive for their return.
“Conditions in Myanmar are not yet conducive for the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of refugees,” the UNHCR said in a statement, adding that the responsibility remains with the government to create such conditions.
Bangladesh in February handed Myanmar a list of 8,032 Rohingyas for verification of their residency there. Myanmar said only some 700 of them were eligible to return. Meanwhile, there are reports of deserted Rohingya villages being bulldozed to destroy the evidence of atrocities.
Bangladesh officials recently said it has been difficult for them to ensure the voluntariness of the Rohingya people's return.
“Now that the UNHCR is getting involved, it will make sure the return is voluntary and safe,” Abul Kalam told The Daily Star yesterday.
Htin Lynn, Myanmar's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, told Reuters on Wednesday that he was confident that his country could reach a repatriation deal with the UNHCR by the end of April.
Meanwhile, the UNHCR and King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSRelief) have signed a US$3 million agreement to provide emergency assistance to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
The agreement was signed by Abdullah Al Rabeeah, supervisor general of KSRelief, and Khaled Khalifa, UNHCR regional representative to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), said a UNHCR statement yesterday.
“Following the issuance of the royal directives to allocate US$20 million in response to the most recent Rohingya crisis, KSRelief has initiated a number of key projects and has worked closely in coordination with the UNHCR and Bangladesh government to attend to the most urgent humanitarian needs of the Rohingya refugees,” the statement quoted Rabeeah as saying.