The Saudi authorities yesterday deported to Bangladesh at least 13 Rohingyas, who had travelled to the kingdom with Bangladeshi passports several years back.
Riyadh may send back more Rohingyas, now kept in detention camps in Jeddah, creating more worries for Bangladesh which is already burdened with over a million Rohingya refugees.
The 13 deportees arrived at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport around 2:00am by a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight. They were detained following their admission that they were Rohingyas, said the immigration police.
“The higher authorities will decide what to do with them. There are no instructions until now,” an official of the immigration police told this correspondent yesterday evening, seeking anonymity.
Abdur Rahman, additional superintendent of police of the Armed Police Battalion (APBN) at the airport, said they had information that the Dhaka-Jeddah flight was carrying 54 passengers, who had travel passes, not passports, and that there were Rohingyas among them.
Upon their arrival at Dhaka airport early yesterday, immigration police checked their documents but could not verify the addresses of the 13.
“At one stage of questioning, the deportees admitted that they are Rohingyas, and then they were detained,” Rahman told The Daily Star.
The 13 Rohingyas had travel passes issued by Bangladesh Consulate General in Jeddah but it is unclear how they had obtained those.
In the travel passes, five of them were identified as Abdul Majid, Mizanur Rahman, Habibur Rahman, Mohammed Salim and Omar Faruk -- all from Chattogram.
The others are Khaja Moyen Uddin from Bogra; Bokul from Jhenidah; Mohammad Mia and Shamsul Alam from Pabna; Aman Ullah from Madaripur; Jamal Hosen from Cox's Bazar; Mohammed Anik from Cumilla and Nazim Ullah from Joypurhat.
Such travel passes are issued by the country's missions abroad to the Bangladeshis, who have lost their passports. But their identities are verified through other documents, including national identity cards and certificates from the local government offices concerned.
Contacted, Mujibur Rahman, counsellor at Bangladesh Consulate General in Jeddah, said they did not issue travel passes to any Rohingyas.
He further said they issue such passes only after verification of one's Bangladeshi citizenship.
Asked, Nazrul Islam, deputy chief of mission at Bangladesh embassy in Riyadh, said it is a big concern how the Rohingyas had secured Bangladeshi passports.
“The relevant authorities must be very careful on the issue. There must be a mechanism to instantly identify a Rohingya,” he said.
Nay San Lwin, a Germany-based Rohingya activist with links to Rohingyas in Saudi Arabia, said more than 1,000 Rohingyas have been kept in detention camps in the kingdom for years for violating immigration rules, including overstaying their visas.
They went there by securing passports of different countries including Bangladesh through smugglers. This has been going on since the 1980s, he told The Daily Star over the phone.
Before 2011, those who identified themselves as Rohingyas in Saudi Arabia got residency permits for the fact that they were stateless Muslims in Myanmar, he mentioned.
But since 2011, Riyadh began registering them with fingerprints as Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Nepalese, not as Rohingya, he pointed out.
The activist said he had requested the officials at the Saudi foreign office not to deport the Rohingyas but didn't get any response from them.
“If they [the Rohingyas in detention camps] are released and allowed to work in Saudi Arabia, they can help their relatives living at refugee camps in Bangladesh.”
Nay San Lwin said he would approach European countries and seek their help for halting deportation of Rohingyas from Saudi Arabia.
Now, more than a million Rohingyas are living in squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh, and there are reports of Rohingyas leaving the camps and spreading in various parts of the country.
Bangladesh welcomed over 750,000 Rohingyas, who fled brutal military crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine State since August 2017.
The country is facing environmental, economic and diplomatic challenges in handling the Rohingya crisis.
Resentment is growing among locals in Cox's Bazar with jobs being taken away by the Rohingyas, who sell cheap labour.
Repatriation of the Rohingyas could not be started on November 15 last year as they did not agree to return voluntarily, saying conditions for return were not conducive, and that they had no guarantee of citizenship and security in Rakhine.
Yesterday, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam told diplomatic correspondents at his office that the government would take effective steps to address the Rohingya crisis.
He also hoped that the repatriation process based on the agreed list of verified Rohingyas will begin soon.
In a report late last year, US investigators said Myanmar committed genocide against the Rohingyas.
Global rights groups' call for the UN Security Council to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court goes unheeded due to opposition from Myanmar's allies China and Russia that have veto powers in the Security Council.