DHAKA – Bangladesh and Myanmar formed on Tuesday a joint working group and signed an agreement detailing the terms of its mandate to begin repatriation of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who have fled to Bangladesh in the last three months to escape an ongoing military offensive in the western part of the country.
Bangladesh’s foreign ministry representative Mohamed Shahidul Haque and his counterpart from Myanmar, U Myint Thu, inked the agreement to create the joint working group, which will comprise 15 representatives from each country.
“In the arrangement we, Bangladesh and Myanmar, signed in Myanmar’s capital Nay Pyi Taw in November, there was a mention of a Joint Working Group. Now it has been formed, we will start working on the next phase,” Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmud Ali told reporters.
“I cannot say exactly when it will start, but it will start soon. It’s important to start. I am really satisfied,” Ali added.
Myanmar signed an agreement with Bangladesh on Nov. 23 to repatriate the more than 650,000 Rohingyas who had crossed over to Bangladesh fleeing the latest wave of violence that erupted on Aug. 25 in Myanmar’s Rakhine State after the Myanmar army launched an offensive following a series of attacks on government posts in the region by Rohingya rebels.
According to the agreement, the repatriation process would start within two months of signing of the agreement.
However, Myanmar, which does not recognize the Rohingyas – a Muslim minority community – as citizens, had agreed to their return provided they have the required documents and are not involved in alleged acts of terrorism.
Meanwhile, the Bangladeshi foreign ministry said in a statement that the working group will “include mechanism of verification, time schedule, transport and logistics arrangements, reception procedures, communication, etc. to commence the repatriation process within the stipulated time frame.”
The working group will be assisted by international bodies such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other international partners in various stages of repatriation.
Several human rights organizations, however, have repeatedly denounced that conditions are not appropriate for the safe return of the Rohingyas to Myanmar where, according to recently-arrived refugees, the offensive against them is still underway.
The UN and several human rights organizations have condemned alleged abuses against the Rohingyas as part of the offensive and called it ethnic cleansing.
The nonprofit Médecins Sans Frontiéres (Doctors Without Borders) reported in a study last week that at least 6,700 Rohingyas, including 730 children aged below five, had been killed in Myanmar in the first month of the crisis.