No Rohingya Return to Myanmar on Dhaka’s Official Repatriation Date

By MIN AUNG KHAING 23 August 2019

SITTWE, Rakhine State—Not a single one of the Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar to Bangladesh during a military counterinsurgency operation in August 2017 returned to Myanmar on Thursday, the day Dhaka had slated as the beginning of the repatriation process.

The Bangladeshi government earlier informed the government that 3,450 displaced Rohingya would be repatriated on Aug. 22, said Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement U Win Myat Aye, who is currently in Rakhine State’s capital Sittwe to supervise the repatriation process.

“I haven’t received any report of their repatriation. We will see,” the Union minister told The Irrawaddy on Thursday.

The Myanmar military’s counterinsurgency operation following the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army’s attacks on border police outposts in northern Rakhine State in 2017 caused more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee into Bangladesh, according to the UN, though the Myanmar government disputes the figure.

Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a repatriation agreement in November 2017 but the process has stalled.

The Myanmar government has prepared two camps in Maungdaw—the Taung Pyo Letwe reception center for those who return by road, and the Nga Khu Ya reception center for those who return by boat.

Maungdaw District administrator U Soe Aung said the Myanmar authorities are ready and waiting to begin repatriation. “As they [the Bangladeshi authorities] have not yet contacted us, it appears they are not coming back [on Thursday],” he told The Irrawaddy.

He said Myanmar began preparing shelters, health care services and security arrangements for repatriated displaced persons in November last year.

Over 400 Hindus who were among those displaced by the counterinsurgency operations are also taking shelter at a refugee camp in Bangladesh, he said.

“Over 400 Hindus are in Bangladesh. We don’t know if they are on the repatriation list. The Bangladeshis only sent the number of people to be repatriated,” he told The Irrawaddy.

Myanmar readied itself last year when Bangladeshi authorities said the first batch of displaced persons would return on Nov. 15, 2018, but none of them returned.

To facilitate the repatriation process, the government has built the Hla Poe Hkaung transit camp for returning refugees, in addition to the two reception centers. The camp is located near the village of Hla Poe Hkaung in Maungdaw Township.

The camp has 625 makeshift buildings with 5,000 rooms, as well as a clinic and a playground. It is equipped with electricity and running water, according to the Maungdaw District administrator.

According to international media reports, Rohingya groups are demanding guarantees that they can return to their places of origin “in dignity”, as well as citizenship and freedom of movement.

Displaced Rohingya who have been living in makeshift tents on the border near Taung Pyo Letwe remain there, and have not yet returned, the district administrator said.

A total of 261 displaced Rohingya have returned to Myanmar independently since last year, outside of the official, government-facilitated repatriation process, according to the Maungdaw District General Administration Department. Many were discovered by Myanmar authorities while crossing the border or attempting to travel by sea to a third country.

They were relocated to the villages of their relatives, in accordance with plans drawn up by the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine, and food supplies were also distributed to them, U Soe Aung said.

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