Assessment of voluntariness continues amid tight security

Diplomatic Correspondent | Published: 00:00, Aug 22,2019


Officials of UN and Bangladesh police stand guard in front of a place where UN and refugee commission interviewed Rohingya families at a refugee camp in Teknaf on Wednesday. Rohingya refugees said they did not want to return to their homeland in Myanmar, raising doubt on the fate of the much-talked about refugee repatriation starting from today (Thursday). — AFP photo

The UNHCR and the government jointly continued assessing voluntariness for return of the Rohingya people for the second day on Wednesday with 235 families participating in the process so far. 

‘Two hundred and thirty five Rohingya families willingly came forward in two days to sit for the interviews arranged for assessing voluntariness for return. It indicates that many of them are willing to go,’ refugee relief and repatriation commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam said at a press briefing in Cox’s Bazar on Wednesday.

When asked about how many families expressed their intent to return to Rakhine so far, he said, ‘We are now processing the forms filled out by the prospective returnee families to transfer them to transit camps whenever they voluntarily come forward to return to their own land,’ according to our correspondent in Cox’s Bazar. 

The government has completed all preparations, including arrangement of busses and trucks to start carrying people and their goods on Thursday from Salbagan of Nayapara under Teknaf Police Station to Ghumdhum border amid tight security, he said.

An official of the Myanmar embassy and two officials of the Chinese embassy in Dhaka reached Cox’s Bazar to observe the process, government officials in Cox’s Bazar said.

They said prospective  returnees were less hesitant to attend the interviews on the first day on Tuesday as they Rohingya groups opposing the beginning of the return scared them off. On the second day on Wednesday Rohingya families showed up in huge numbers as the authorities beefed up security inside camps and adjacent areas.  

Several Rohingya families who participated in the interviews on the last two days said they expressed unwillingness to return as their demands for returning to their villages, ensuring citizenship and safety and security were not met.

Voluntariness of some 3,399 persons belonging to some 1,038 Rohingya families is being assessed to find out whether they wanted to return to Rakhine or not, according to RRRC officials.

The UN Security Council would hold two meetings on the situation in Myanmar, one on Wednesday and the other on Friday, according to diplomatic sources in New York.

Belgium, France, Germany, the UK and the US sought the meeting set for Wednesday following the Myanmar government’s announcement that it had cleared 3,450 people for repatriation on 22 August from a list of 22,000 provided by Bangladesh.

There will be an ‘arria formula’ meeting on Friday on questions of accountability on mass atrocity crimes in Myanmar. Germany, Peru and Kuwait sought the meeting.

Rohingya crisis is an issue that the UNSC has been following closely, particularly since its visit to Bangladesh and Myanmar in 2018. The Council’s position on returns was made clear in a press statement on 9 May 2018 in which its members urged Myanmar to step up its efforts to create conditions conducive to the safe, voluntary and dignified return of Rohingya refugees and IDPs to their homes in Rakhine State.

More than 7,00,000 Rohingyas, mostly women, children and aged people, entered Bangladesh after fleeing unbridled murder, arson and rape during ‘security operations’ by the Myanmar military in Rakhine, what the United Nations denounced as ethnic cleansing and genocide, beginning from August 25, 2017.

The latest Rohingya influx took the number of undocumented Myanmar nationals and registered refugees from that country in Bangladesh to about 11,16,000, according to estimates by UN agencies and Bangladesh foreign ministry.

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