YANGON — Myanmar will likely begin repatriating the first group of Rohingya refugee after it attends the next meeting of its Joint Working Group (JWG) with Bangladesh at the end of the month, Social Welfare Minister U Win Myat Aye said.
Comprised of officials from the relevant ministries of both countries, the JWG was formed late last year to hash out the details of a November 2017 agreement between Dhaka and Naypyitaw to repatriate the 700,000 Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh to escape a military crackdown in northern Rakhine State triggered by militant attacks on security posts in the area.
Despite the deal, only a handful of Rohingya have returned to Rakhine to date, outside of official channels.
A UN facts-finding mission has accused the Myanmar military of “genocidal intent” against the Rohingya and urged the Security Council to refer the commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, to the International Criminal Court. The EU has already imposed targeted sanctions against some military generals and is currently considering broad trade sanctions as well.
U Win Myat Aye told The Irrawaddy on Friday that he could not provide a precise number of refugees to be sent back in the first group because he was not a member of the JWG. But he said they were likely to start returning soon after its next meeting because the UN Development Program and UN refugee agency have finished assessing 23 villages being considered for potential repatriation and were in the process of evaluating more.
U Ye Htoo, deputy district administrator of northern Rakhine’s Maungdaw Township, previously told The Irrawaddy that local authorities were working on two separate but related projects for the returnees, one under the social welfare minister’s supervision to build houses at 19 sites and another to prepare 12 model villages fitted with markets, schools, parks and clinics.
Officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is spearheading the repatriation process for Myanmar, could not be reached for comment.
On Sunday, Bangladeshi Foreign Affairs Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali told reporters in Dhaka that about 6,000 Rohingya would be sent back to Myanmar very soon but did not offer an exact timeframe, according to Bangladeshi media.
He reportedly said that India had finished building 250 houses for returnees in Maungdaw and that China had promised to build another 1,000 houses there as well.
During a session of the UN General Assembly in New York last week, China hosted a meeting with the envoys from Bangladesh, India and Myanmar aimed at speeding up the repatriation process.