Rohingya delegation visits Myanmar amid latest repatriation plans

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By Webdesk

Rohingya refugees, who spent nearly six years in overcrowded and squalid camps in Bangladesh, are wary and skeptical of the plan.

A Rohingya refugee delegation has arrived in Myanmar to visit new facilities built to revive a long-stalled plan to return the persecuted minority to their homeland.

Bangladesh officials said on Friday that 20 Rohingya and seven officials, including a border guard, visited two model villages built for the pilot return project.

“We departed from Teknaf jetty with 20 Rohingya members, including three women,” Bangladesh Deputy Refugee Commissioner Mohammed Khalid Hossain told AFP news agency.

“They will see the various facilities created for the purpose of repatriation to Myanmar,” he said as their boat left the river port for neighboring Maungdaw village in Rakhine State, Myanmar.

A Rohingya delegation boards a boat from the jetty of Teknaf, Bangladesh, on May 5, 2023, to visit the Myanmar border district of Maungdow township as part of efforts to reverse a long-stalled plan to return the stateless minority to their to revive the homeland.
Bangladesh officials said 20 Rohingya and seven officials, including a border guard, visited two Rohingya villages [AFP]

Bangladesh is home to about one million Rohingya, most of whom fled a 2017 military crackdown in neighboring Myanmar, which is now the subject of a UN genocide investigation.

Both countries signed an agreement to return the refugees later that year, but little progress has been made since then and the UN has repeatedly warned that conditions for their repatriation were not good.

Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner Mizanur Rahman told AFP the new facilities include a market, a hospital and a reception center for returning refugees. Officials have told AFP they expect repatriations to begin later this month, before the annual monsoon season.

Rohingya is concerned

Rohingya refugees, who have lived in overcrowded and squalid camps in Bangladesh for nearly six years, have been consistently wary and skeptical of the plan since it became public knowledge in March.

Many worry that none of their concerns about security or recognition of their right to citizenship in the Southeast Asian nation have been answered.

“Why are we being sent to Myanmar without citizenship?” one refugee, who said they were also part of Friday’s delegation, told AFP earlier this week, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Rohingya refugees queue at a relief distribution center in Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.
Rohingya refugees queue at an aid distribution center in Balukhali refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh [File: Ed Jones/AFP]

The Rohingya are widely seen in Myanmar as invaders from Bangladesh, despite ancient roots in the country.

The repatriation plan agreed in 2017 has made no significant progress in subsequent years, partly out of concern that the Rohingya would not be safe if they returned.

Myanmar’s military had until recently shown little affection to take back Rohingya, who had been denied citizenship for years and subjected to abuse.

Military chief and ruler Min Aung Hlaing has dismissed Rohingya identity as “imaginary”, and was also the head of the armed forces during the 2017 crackdown.

‘must be voluntary’

The UN refugee agency said it was aware of the trip, which took place “under a bilateral agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar”.

“UNHCR is not involved in organizing this visit. However, we reiterate that every refugee has an inalienable right to return to their home country,” agency spokesperson Regina De La Portilla told AFP.

“Refugee returns must be voluntary, safe and dignified,” she added. “No refugee should be forced to do this.”

The International Court of Justice is investigating allegations of rape, murder and arson against entire Rohingya villages by Myanmar’s security forces during the 2017 violence.

In a 2018 report, UN army chief Hlaing and other generals called for genocide charges.

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