The 450 Hindus who would be taken back by Myanmar in the first batch on January 22 know little about their repatriation, and officials concerned here are also in the dark.
Myanmar's minister for social welfare, relief and resettlement, Win Myat Aye, made an announcement on December 28 following a meeting in Naypyitaw that repatriation would start on January 22 with the group of Hindu refugees.
The Democratic Voice of Burma, a Myanmar news organisation based in Thailand, also reported that Myanmar had even sent verification forms for its Hindu nationals.
When asked about the matter, foreign ministry officials yesterday said what Myanmar announced was not decided in any joint meeting of the two countries.
They announced it on their own and Bangladesh does not know anything about it, the officials said.
The first meeting of the Bangladesh-Myanmar Joint Working Group (JWG) would be held in Naypyitaw by January 15 and the detailed arrangements for the repatriation would be finalised there, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam told reporters earlier.
Commissioner Mohammed Abul Kalam Azad of the Rohingya, Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC), who is also a member of the JWG, said they know nothing about 450 Hindus going back first.
"We did not get any official proposal and we have not agreed to send only 450 people in the first batch,” said Kalam.
“We are yet to sit for the first meeting of the joint committee [JWG]. The date and venue of the first meeting is yet to be fixed,” he said.
Kalam said they would hand over a list of one lakh refugees to Myanmar representative in the JWG meeting.
He said the returnees would be randomly picked. “We are not going to discriminate by religion, sex or age.”
As per the agreement, UNHCR, the UN's agency for refugees, would be involved in the process, he said.
At the refugee camps in Cox's Bazar, there was no sign that the Hindus would be the first in line to go back.
“I just heard it from journalists. But nobody from any government office or from any UN agency contacted us about repatriation,” said Shisupal Shil, majhi (village chief) of Hindu refugees.
Shisupal said the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) had made 80 tents for them and they were waiting for 20 more to be built.
“We are 101 families. When they finish constructing the tents, toilets and tube wells, we will move in,” he said.
All Madhuram Shil, a barber, could only bring his scissors, shaving brush and a few other instruments from Myanmar. He has been living at the Kutupalong Hindupara with his 15-member family for last four months.
He set up a small barber shop there as he does not know when he would be able to go back home.
Asked why they were making tents for the Hindus when there was a possibility that they would be the first to go back, an IOM official at the camp said he did not know that these refugees would be going back so soon.
“We are making the tents because the government requested us to make arrangements for these people.”
Bangladesh government has made a database of 923,000 Rohingyas, with fingerprints and other necessary information.