NAYPYITAW — The Myanmar government is taking steps to repatriate more than 400 Hindus who fled to Bangladesh since August 25 after insurgent attacks on border police prompted counter-insurgency military operations in northern Rakhine State.
Union minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Dr. Win Myat Aye on Thursday revealed the plan to reporters in administrative capital Naypyitaw at the meeting of the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine State (UEHRD).
The Myanmar government has sent application forms for Hindu people to fill out in order to come back to Myanmar.
“We’ll send more application forms depending on the number of houses available in the area,” said Dr. Win Myat Aye, as many houses were burned down or damaged in the conflict.
On Nov. 22, the Myanmar and Bangladeshi governments signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the repatriation of refugees. The two countries agreed to form a joint committee within three weeks and start the repatriation process within two months.
The Myanmar government sent application forms in response to the request of Hindu refugees, said Dr. Win Myat Aye, who is also the vice-chair of UEHRD, adding that the government would only send and accept application forms for those who were willing to come back to Myanmar of their own accord.
“We are arranging accommodation for them. For example, we are planning to build houses near Nga Khu Ya and Taung Pyo Let Wae villages where houses were burned down,” the minister told reporters.
Arakanese lawmaker U Aung Thaung Shwe representing Rakhine State’s Buthidaung in the Lower House has criticized the government for failing to publicize the repatriation agreement.
He suggested that Arakanese people are likely to leave their native towns if the government accepts back Bengalis—a term used by the majority of Myanmar people to refer to the Rohingya as interlopers from Bangladesh—for fear that insurgents might also infiltrate into the state along with refugees.
“Arakanese people can live together with Hindus who live peacefully. But what if insurgents come back? If they come back here, we can’t live here. We dare not. We can only leave,” U Aung Thaung Shwe told The Irrawaddy.
The latest repatriation agreement is a modification of a 1993 agreement between the two governments.
It is not clear if the Myanmar government has also sent applications for Muslim refugees in Bangladesh. But, the minister said that houses were being built in northern Rakhine State for their repatriation as well.
Anyone coming back will have to undergo the national verification process according to the 1982 Citizenship Law, and full citizenship and associate citizenship along with fundamental rights and freedom of movement will be granted respectively to those who are eligible, according to the minister.
The UN estimates that more than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since Aug. 25, but the Myanmar government has denied those figures.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.