Rohingya Return: Verification begins for first batch

Myanmar officials now in Teknaf
File photo

Amid mounting global pressure, a 17-member Myanmar delegation yesterday started verifying the identities of the Rohingya refugees in Teknaf, as the first group of Myanmar's displaced people is expected to be repatriated in a few months.

According to Bangladesh officials, there were some issues regarding the earlier verification process, and virtual meetings held in this regard were not enough to settle those.

"Therefore, the delegation is meeting the Rohingyas in person and verifying their names, villages, towns … " a foreign ministry official told The Daily Star yesterday.

The delegation, led by Rakhine's State Minister for Social Welfare Aung Miyo, includes officials from Myanmar's immigration and population ministry. It arrived in Teknaf through the Teknaf-Mangdaw Transit Jetty around 9:45am yesterday.

Officials in Teknaf said that at 11:00am, the Myanmar delegation started interviewing 70 Rohingyas of 20 families, who were taken from the Leda-Nayapara camp at Hnila union to a marquee set up in front of a rest house at the Teknaf Land Port.

Shamsuddouza Noyon, additional refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, said the delegation will stay here for a few days to complete the verification process.

Speaking to The Daily Star, a Rohingya refugee interviewed by the delegation said, "We were enquired about our names, village, profession, about our neighbours, and more."

Since 2017, when around 750,000 Rohingyas fled a military crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine State, there were at least two attempts of repatriation and Chinese officials were also involved in the process as China began mediating under a tripartite arrangement involving China, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

However, not a single refugee of the over one million sheltered in Cox's Bazar's Teknaf and Ukhiya upazilas was repatriated, as the Rohingyas said the conditions in Rakhine were not safe and there was no guarantee of citizenship after returning.

Talks between Myanmar and Bangladesh had slowed since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, and military takeover of Myanmar in 2021.

Meanwhile, the global pressure piled on the Myanmar junta that is accused of killing thousands of civilians fighting for the return of democracy.

On the other hand, a genocide case is ongoing with the International Court of Justice, while the US has also termed the atrocities against the Rohingyas a genocide.

In December, the US Senate passed the BURMA Act to bolster support for the Myanmar democratic forces.

Foreign ministry officials said Myanmar has shown growing interest for the Rohingya repatriation in recent times and has also arranged a trip for ambassadors of ASEAN countries and of Bangladesh, India and China to Rakhine last week to show the conditions.

They said that out of the list of 8.82 lakh Rohingyas sent to the Myanmar authorities, the identities of around 70,000 had been verified by the latter.

"We found that some members of the same families were left out of the list of verified Rohingyas. When we asked why it happened, the Myanmar authorities said there may have been spelling mistakes in the names or addresses," a foreign ministry official said. 

He added that the Bangladesh government then invited the Myanmar officials to visit the Rohingya camps and verify the identities in person. "This visit [of the delegation] is meant to do that."

Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mohammed Mizanur Rahman told Reuters there was a list of 1,140 Rohingyas who are to be repatriated under the pilot project, of which 711 have had their cases cleared.

Cases of the remaining 429 on the list, including some newborns, were still being processed, he said.

Those dropped out of the list will be added back and verified.

"We are ready to send them back," Mizanur said, adding that he did not yet know when exactly the repatriation would begin.

However, Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh, Yao Wen, on Tuesday said he expects the first batch of Rohingya will be repatriated soon.


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