Date for Rohingya return triggers confusion

Mohiuddin Alamgir | Published: 00:05, Jan 23,2018 | Updated: 01:27, Jan 23,2018

 
 
Rohingya

Rohingya refugees are seen at the Jamtoli camp in the morning in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, January 22, 2018. — Reuters photo

Confusion over the date of starting the much-talked repatriation of Rohingyas, who entered Bangladesh from Myanmar after October 2016, has arisen, with the two governments contradicting each other.
A Myanmar state-sponsored newspaper earlier reported that the main repatriation would start on Tuesday while Bangladesh officials on Monday said that they were not aware about any such date of starting of the repatriation.
Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies barred Rohingyas living in Cox’s Bazar from holding a protest demanding safe repatriation and citizenship on Monday.
Officials of refugee relief and repatriation commissioner office in Cox’s Bazar did not mention any date of starting repatriation and said they working on preparing a list of Rohingyas, creation of transit camp, voluntariness and others logistics issues.
‘No deadline of beginning of repatriation of Rohingyas has been fixed so far,’ refugee relief and repatriation commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam, also a joint working group member, told New Age.
‘We are busy with preparation works. A deadline could be fixed only after completion of preparatory works like listing of Rohingyas, ensuring voluntariness, setting up of transit camps,’ Abul Kalam said.
When asked about a Myanmar state-sponsored newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar published on Saturday said that repatriation of Rohingyas would begin on Tuesday (today), Abul Kalam said that they were not aware of anything about it.
‘Joint working committee working for repatriation has not taken any such decision,’ he said.
A joint working committee member on condition of anonymity on Monday said that Myanmar was trying to ‘befool’ others by circulating such news.
On January 16, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed the deal for setting modalities of physical arrangement for partial repatriation within two years of transferring the first batch of over 7,73,000 Rohingyas who fled violence in Rakhine and crossed the border since October , 2016.
None of the sides, however, made it clear when they would begin actual transfer as they were supposed to ‘commence’ the ‘repatriation process’ on January 23 in line with the arrangement on return of displaced persons from Rakhine State signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar on November 23.
According to the UN estimation, till Monday, 6,88,000 Rohingyas entered Bangladesh since August 25 when the new influx, what the United Nations called the world’s fastest-developing refugee emergency, began.
The new influx began after Myanmar security forces responded to Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army’s reported attacks on August 25 by launching a violence that the United Nations denounced as ethnic cleansing.
In a study released in December, Médecins Sans Frontières, also known as Doctors Without Border, said that at least 6,700 Rohingyas, including 730 children aged less than five years, had been killed in Myanmar during the first month of the crisis.
Officials estimated that the new influx already took to 11.07 lakh the number of Myanmar people living in Bangladesh.
Reuters reported that Bangladesh has delayed the repatriation of Rohingya Muslim refugees to Myanmar, set to start on Tuesday, because the process of compiling and verifying the list of people to be sent back was incomplete, a senior Bangladesh official said.
The decision comes as tensions have risen in camps holding hundreds of thousands of refugees, some of whom are opposing their transfer back to Myanmar because of lack of security guarantees.
Myanmar agreed earlier this month to receive the Rohingya refugees at two reception centres and a temporary camp near its border with Bangladesh over a two-year period starting Tuesday. The authorities have said repatriations will be voluntary.
But Abul Kalam said on Monday the return would have to be delayed. He did not immediately give a new date for the repatriations to begin, Reuters report said.
‘We are ready to accept them once they come back. On our part, the preparation is ready,’ Ko Ko Naing, director general of Myanmar’s Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, told Reuters by phone.
He declined to comment on whether Bangladesh had informed Myanmar about the delay.
An Agence France-Presse report on the day said the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled violence in Myanmar would not begin as planned, Bangladesh said Monday, with authorities admitting ‘a lot of preparation’ still to be done.
Dhaka was due to start the huge process on January 23, after agreeing a two-year timescale with Yangon.
After a global outcry, which included loud criticism of Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the two countries agreed earlier this month that the refugees would be returned to Myanmar, in a process they said would take around two years.
Rights groups and the UN have said that any repatriation must be voluntary, with reports that many Rohingya settlements have been burned to the ground.
Bangladesh has sought to assure the international community that only those wishing to go back to their homelands in Rakhine state would be sent to Myanmar, and the process would involve the UN’s refugee agency.
Meanwhile, New Age correspondent in Cox’s Bazar reported that local law enforcers in presence of Bangladesh Army who are carrying out relief activities among the ethnic minorities on Monday morning stopped Rohingyas from holding a protest at Jamtoli of Ukhia.
Rohingyas said that they went for a protest and gathered with a loudspeaker and a banner listing a set of demands including one that Myanmar must unconditionally stop violence and practice of ethnic cleansing on Rohingyas immediately and forever.
It must implement recommendations of Kofi Annan Commission entirety including citizen rights.
They also demanded formation of safe zones inside Myanmar under UN supervision and UN secretary general’s fact finding mission immediately and ensuring sustainable return of all Rohingyas to their homes.
Ukhia police officer-in-charge Abul Khair said he was not aware about protest and said ‘every kind of protest by Rohingya is banned’.
Inter Services Public Relation Directorate director Lieutenant Colonel Mohammad Rashidul Hasan said that he heard about a protest of Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar. ‘Police and RAB officials dispersed their protest,’ he said.
‘Army is carrying out relief assistance for them [Rohingya]; they were present their as part of their humanitarian assistance duty,’ he said.
Rohingyas living in Nayapara camps of Cox’s Bazar on Saturday held protests demanding citizenship rights in line with the Kofi Annan Commission recommendation and guarantees of security before they returned to their home state of Rakhine in Myanmar.
They held the protests while UN special rapporteur Yanghee Lee was visiting the camps.
Earlier, twelve Rohingya organisations in a statement on January 17 expressed serious concern over an agreement on the repatriation process. 

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