46 Rohingya Return to Myanmar’s Rakhine State

By Min Aung Khine 1 November 2019

SITTWE, Rakhine State—Forty-six Rohingya voluntarily returned to Rakhine State’s Maungdaw Township from Bangladesh on Thursday.

Forty-two of them entered Maungdaw through the Nga Khura border gate and four others entered through Taungpyo Letwei after officially reporting their return to local authorities, according to Maungdaw district administrator U Soe Aung.

He said he had not yet received the list of how many men and how many women are among the returnees.

Two of the returnees previously lived in Pan Taw Pyin Village, said village community elder U Anawar. “I am in Nga Khura as I heard that two of the returnees are from my village. The immigration department is now taking their photos for record-keeping purposes. Then I will take the two back to the village and assist them with their rehabilitation,” U Anawar 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 group allegedly responsible for coordinated attacks against Myanmar security forces in Maungdaw in August 2017.

In September, 26 Rohingya returned voluntarily to Rakhine from Bangladesh. Authorities arrested one of them on suspicion of having ties to ARSA.

So far, a total of 397 Rohingya have voluntarily returned independently of bilateral agreement procedures established between the Myanmar and Bangladeshi governments. The refugees have returned both by boat and 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).

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 returnees under the official bilateral agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh, the Myanmar government opened two reception centers in early 2018: one in Taungpyo Letwei, for those returning over the land border, and one in Nga Khura for those returning by boat. 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 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.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians from Rakhine, including more than 400 displaced Hindu civilians, are still living in refugee camps in 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 on the suspects, 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