The much-awaited Rohingya repatriation is set to begin on Thursday, around 10 months after the first attempt failed as the refugees didn’t choose to go back.
A list of 3,450 Rohingyas, who have been cleared by the Myanmar government for return, was shared with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Bangladesh earlier this month so that the agency could assist in checking whether the refugees wished to return voluntarily.
The UNHCR, as part of its standard practice, asks the refugees to come forward and discuss matters relating to repatriation. Officials in a confidential setting meet those who express interest in going back.
“Those who express a wish to return will be invited for a second interview to ensure the voluntariness of their decision. They will be asked to complete a voluntary repatriation form,” said UNHCR Spokesperson Joseph Tripura.
Through this, the UNHCR will aim to ensure that any return to Myanmar is voluntary, which is one of UNHCR’s most fundamental protection responsibilities, he told The Daily Star.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas poured into Bangladesh two years ago amid a military crackdown on them in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
“UNHCR and its partners are now reaching out to the Rohingya refugee community with information regarding the most recent developments,” Tripura told The Daily Star recently.
Asked if any list of the Rohingyas, who volunteered to return, has been prepared, he said, “The work is going on.”
Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) Mohammad Abul Kalam said Bangladesh was prepared to start the repatriation anytime.
“We are waiting for the list [from the UNHCR] of those who volunteer to return to Myanmar,” he told The Daily Star on Sunday.
The government is working to start the repatriation on August 22.
The RRRC said as per rules, the names of those who volunteered to return will have to be handed over to the Myanmar authorities. Besides, the returnees will go through medical check-ups and will be taken to transit camps near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.
Bangladesh authorities have set up two transit camps -- one on the banks of the Naf river near Keruntali of Nayapara in Teknaf and the other near Ghumdhum Border area of Naikkhangchhari in Bandarban.
The Rohingyas who agree to return will be first taken to the transit camp and then to Myanmar border where the Myanmar authorities will receive them.
“We have repaired the transit camps that were damaged by rain,” Kalam said, “Logistically, we are ready. Everything depends on the voluntariness of the Rohingyas.”
Many refugees said they were happy to know that Myanmar cleared the names of 3,450 Rohingyas. However, they still have doubts about their safety in Rakhine.
Mohib Ullah, president of Rohingya Society for Humanity and Peace, said the Rohingyas do not want to live in Bangladesh as refugees.
“They are always ready to return to their houses. But the Myanmar government will have to fulfil Rohingyas’ demands,” the resident of a Kutupalong refugee camp told The Daily Star.
Their demands include holding accountable those who killed and tortured the Rohingyas and drove them out of their land; ensuring citizenship and security of the Rohingyas in Myanmar; giving back their land and properties and protecting all fundamental rights of the Rohingyas in Rakhine.
The first attempt of Rohingya repatriation was made on November 15 last year, a year after Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a bilateral repatriation deal following the influx of nearly 750,000 Rohingya since August 25, 2017.
The repatriation could not begin as the Rohingyas did not want to go back then, saying there was no guarantee of citizenship and safety in Rakhine.
In June 2018, Myanmar signed a tripartite deal with the UNDP and UNHCR, allowing the agencies to undertake assessment work and propose and implement community-based projects to create conditions conducive to Rohingya repatriation.
The UN has maintained many times that it does not believe the current situation is ready for large-scale repatriation.
“We nonetheless respect the right of individual refugees to return should they wish to do so, and will provide support where we can,” Joseph Tripura said.
“The Rohingya have their own networks through which they may know better the conditions back in Rakhine,” said another UN official, requesting anonymity.