Camps Ready But Bangladesh Delays Repatriation of Refugees

By Htet Naing Zaw 22 January 2018

NAYPYITAW — Although Myanmar is ready to start repatriating Muslim refugees as of Wednesday, the Bangladeshi government has yet to complete a list of the refugees who will return as agreed under a bilateral agreement.

Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and rehabilitation commissioner, said on Monday that the return would have to be delayed. He did not immediately give a new date for the repatriations to begin.

“There are many things remaining,” he told Reuters by phone. “The list of people to be sent back is yet to be prepared, their verification and setting up of transit camps is remaining.”

In late November, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) and agreed to form a joint working committees within three weeks to work on repatriating the more than 620,000 Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh after a military crackdown triggered by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacks on security posts in northern Rakhine State in late August.

Tents, buses, food and water supply and food have been prepared for the refugees at repatriation camps in Taungpyoletwe and Nga Khu Ya in Maungdaw, said Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Minister Dr. Win Myat Aye.

“According to the agreement, repatriation is set to begin on Jan. 23. So, we have made preparations. If we get the list, we can start tomorrow. But we have not yet received it,” the minister told reporters at parliament on Monday.

By the second week of January, the Myanmar government had verified over 1,200 refugees—750 Muslims and more than 500 Hindus—as refugees entitled to return. Under the MoU, the Bangladeshi government was to ask them if they were willing to return, and send the list of returnees prior to the repatriation.

According to the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar, returnees will be accommodated at a camp in Hla Po Khaung in northern Rakhine State, while their houses burned in clashes are rebuilt.

The decision from Bangladesh to delay the start of repatriation comes as tensions have risen in the camps holding the refugees, some of whom are opposing their transfer back to Myanmar because of lack of security guarantees.

In Naypyitaw, Lower House lawmaker U Aung Thaung Shwe of Buthidaung Township said the returnees would not be welcomed back in Rakhine State.

“We have not been informed by the government about what it is doing in the repatriation process. The Arakanese community doesn’t want them back as they believe that problems will flare again if they come back,” he said.

At the Palongkhali refugee camp, near the Naf River that marks the border between the two countries, a group of Rohingya leaders gathered early on Monday morning with a loudspeaker and a banner listing a set of demands for their return to Myanmar, Reuters reported.

These include security guarantees, the granting of citizenship and the group’s recognition in Myanmar’s list of ethnic minorities. The Rohingya are also asking that homes, mosques and schools that were burned down or damaged in the military operation be rebuilt.

Bangladesh army officials arrived at the protest and dispersed the crowd of 300. Witnesses said they saw the army take away one of the Rohingya leaders who was holding a banner.

Dr. Win Myat Aye, who is also vice-chairman of Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine (UEHRD), and Rakhine State Chief Minister U Nyi Pu inspected accommodations for returnees at repatriation centers on Jan. 15.

Additional reporting by Reuters.