29 Rohingya Refugees Voluntarily Return to Rakhine

By Min Aung Khine 23 October 2019

SITTWE, Rakhine State—On Tuesday morning, 29 Rohingya voluntarily returned to Rakhine State’s Maungdaw Township from Bangladesh.

They entered Maungdaw through Taungpyo Letwe after officially reporting their return to local authorities, said Maungdaw district administrator U Soe Aung.

“They sought permission from us in advance for their voluntary return and we gave permission,” U Soe Aung told The Irrawaddy. The returnees reportedly provided authorities with a list of who would be returning in advance. Upon their arrival, authorities checked the returnees’ identities to make sure they were on the list before resettling them.

Authorities also checked the refugees against a list of suspected members of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), the ethnic armed group allegedly responsible for the coordinated attacks against Myanmar security forces in Maungdaw in August 2017.

Last month, 26 Rohingya returned voluntarily to Rakhine from Bangladesh. Authorities arrested one of them on suspicion of having ties to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).

So far, more than 300 people have voluntarily returned independently of bilateral agreement procedures established between the Myanmar and Bangladeshi governments. These Rohingya have returned either by boat or on foot across the border, according to the Maungdaw District General Administration Department.

Authorities are resettling the returnees and many have gone to live with family members while the government constructs homes in the areas where some of the Rohingya villages stood before they were destroyed.

Authorities have also provided the returnees with humanitarian and rehabilitation support as outlined by the Office of the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine (UEHRD).

In Pan Taw Pyin Village, community elder U Anawar said that 11 returnees have returned to live with their families.

“They live at the houses of their relatives. The government as well as the UN have provided food for them. But [the Rohingya returnees] said they want to travel freely like citizens,” he told The Irrawaddy.

On Oct. 11, 10 Rohingya returnees met with ambassadors of ASEAN countries. The ambassadors asked them about their reasons for returning and their current living conditions.

For official returnees, the government opened two reception centers in early 2018: one in Taungpyo Letwei, for those returning over the border, and one for those returning by boat in Nga Khura. However, no one has officially returned under the bilateral agreement.

Myanmar and Bangladesh have agreed that the repatriation program will adhere to the terms of the bilateral agreement signed between the two countries on Nov. 23, 2017.

After the ARSA allegedly launched attacks on Myanmar security forces on Aug. 25, 2017, local members of the Rakhine, Mro, Daingnet, Khami and Hindu communities fled their homes toward Sittwe and other parts of Rakhine State. The Myanmar military then led a crackdown consisting of “clearance operations” that pushed more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims into neighboring Bangladesh.

The Myanmar government has released details about the suspected perpetrators of the attacks in August 2017, including their pictures and names. U Soe Aung said officials have been checking all the voluntary returnees against the data that authorities have, in accordance with the law and regulations.

The Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have demanded to be allowed to return safely and with dignity, to be recognized as citizens, to be permitted to return to their homes, and to be given freedom of movement.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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