DHAKA – Bangladeshi authorities said on Monday they would not initiate the repatriation of Rohingyas within the stipulated period agreed with Myanmar two months ago, on the grounds that preparations for the refugees’ return have not yet been completed.
On Nov. 23, 2017, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an agreement to start the repatriation of the more than 688,000 Rohingyas who have arrived in Bangladesh since last August within two months.
Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque told EFE that the process would not begin on Tuesday, as had been agreed.
Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, Abul Kalam, told EFE that there was still much work to be done before the process could be begin.
“We are busy in preparation, initially we have to build some physical infrastructure, we have to build a transit camp, and we have to prepare the list based on family and village. These works are in progress,” he said.
He said that Myanmar would be informed once those preparations were complete, and that the process would only begin once Myanmar authorities had verified the information.
“Myanmar also has a lot of things to do to ensure a safe repatriation,” he added.
Kalam, a member of the Joint Working Group in charge of the process, did not specify a time frame for the start of the repatriation.
“It’s difficult to predict a time. But surely some time would be required. There is a matter of financing and work force. Also, we have to decide the repatriation mode and the logistics arrangement,” he said.
Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed on Jan. 16 that the repatriation process of Rohingya refugees would be completed within two years that families would return as a unit, and that temporary accommodation would be arranged, among other details.
On Sunday, the Bangladeshi Foreign Ministry said that a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees would be involved to ensure that the process is voluntary.
The UNHCR spokesperson in Cox’s Bazar, the eastern Bangladeshi district where the Rohingya refugee camps are located, told EFE that they had no knowledge of when the process would begin.
The current crisis erupted on Aug. 25, 2017, following an attack by a Rohingya insurgent group that led to a violent response by the Myanmar army in the state of Rakhine, where it is calculated that around 1 million Rohingyas lived.
Members of the mostly Muslim minority community are not recognized by Myanmar’s authorities, who consider them Bengali migrants, and refuse to grant them citizenship.
The United Nations and various human rights organizations have said there is clear evidence of rights abuses in Myanmar, with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights calling the army’s operations “ethnic cleansing” and saying there were indications of “genocide.”
Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) reported in a statement released in December that at least 6,700 Rohingyas, including 730 children aged below five, had been killed in Myanmar in the first month of the crisis.