The UNHCR started repatriation discussions yesterday with the Rohingyas selected to return to Myanmar starting from tomorrow.
The UN Refugee Agency interviewed the 3,450 Rohingyas cleared for return by the Myanmar government. The engagement, officially called an intention survey, is a key part of the voluntary return of the refugees.
The survey conducted by the UNHCR began at 9:00am at the Shalban Rohingya Camp in Teknaf. Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) officials were also present during the sessions.
Workers from both the organisations, however, refused to say the number of Rohingyas who appeared for the survey which continued till 5:00pm.
Shalban camp in-charge Khaled Hossain said that many of the selected turned up for the engagement sessions conducted at make-shift tents close to the camp office.
Visiting the camp, many Rohingyas were found reading leaflets printed in Arakanese language, also known as Rakhine. The distribution of the leaflets started on Monday.
Detailing the content, Noor Bashar, a resident of the camp, said it said they would have to get the national verification card (NVC) first upon their return to Myanmar.
After that, they would be kept in Nakfura camp in Myanmar from where they would be shifted to another camp in the country for six months.
He, however, said that no Rohingya would be interested for voluntary return until they were given citizenship and the benefits the status would bring.
Badlul Islam, a Rohingya camp leader, said the leaflet mainly focused on providing NVC. “But the Rohingyas are still scared due to the bitter past when they were driven away in the name of being provided the NVC,” said Islam.
Mohammed Riaz, one of the session attendees, said the UNHCR officials told him nothing new, adding that he would not return to Myanmar if their four-point demand was not met.
The Rohingyas’ four-point demands are for 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 Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
Rashid Amin, who also attended the session, told the reporters that the whole exercise was “nothing but an eyewash”. He said the discussion of their voluntary return should have been done with Myanmar officials.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen yesterday said both Bangladesh and Myanmar were ready to resume the repatriation of Rohingyas to their homeland, but some Rohingya leaders and NGOs were discouraging the refugees from returning, reports UNB.
“We’ve heard some Rohingya leaders have emerged there. They don’t want the return of any Rohingya [to their homeland]. They’re trying to stop the returnees. Some INGOs [international non-governmental organisations] and NGOs are instigating them [Rohingyas],” he told a small group of reporters at his office in the afternoon.
He said Bangladesh wanted to see the refugees return to Rakhine State as soon as possible. The two countries would try to resume the repatriation in a small scale from tomorrow.
The much-awaited Rohingya repatriation is set to begin around 10 months after the first attempt failed as the refugees didn’t choose to go back.
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.
The first attempt of Rohingya repatriation was made on November 15, 2018, a year after Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a bilateral repatriation deal following the influx of nearly 750,000 Rohingya since a military crackdown by Myanmar began on August 25, 2017.
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.