TEKNAF, Bangladesh – Bangladeshi authorities were awaiting on Thursday Rohingya refugees for voluntary repatriation back to Myanmar, from where hundreds of thousands fled almost two years ago during a violent army crackdown.
“We are waiting from 9:00 am with all the logistic arrangements. If someone comes voluntarily, we will take him for repatriation,” said Mohammad Khaled Hossain, the official in charge of Camp 26 in Teknaf, located on the southernmost point of Bangladesh near the Myanmar border.
According to Hossain, five buses and 10 minibuses have been arranged to take Rohingyas to the border.
The repatriation comes three days ahead of the second anniversary of the Myanmar army crackdown on Aug. 25, 2017 that spurred the mass exodus of 740,000 Rohingyas across the border where they have since languished in sprawling refugee camps.
Bangladesh and Myanmar decided last week to begin the repatriation of 3,450 on Thursday after a failed attempt to do so in November 2018 due to the lack of volunteers.
“We are also continuing to interview Rohingyas,” Hossain said.
The interviews are being conducted by the United Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR) along with Bangladeshi officials.
Local authorities said on Wednesday they had so far interviewed 235 families willing to be repatriated.
One of the Rohingyas who went for an interview with UNHCR at Camp 26 on Thursday was Nur Hossain, a 41-year-old driver who fled Myanmar when the attacks by the military began.
Hossain told EFE he will not return to Myanmar with the eight members of his family, including six daughters and a son, until certain demands are met.
“We need to be given the Rohingya card, our safety has to be ensured and Myanmar must release people they are holding in IDP (internally displaced person) camps,” he said.
When they guarantee these requests, “it will make me believe they will not restrict my freedom once I go back,” he added.
The Myanmar government has said that it will provide “National Verification Cards” to Rohingyas, which will establish their residency in the country, but not their citizenship – which is one of the main demands of the community.
The government considers Rohingyas illegal immigrants from Bangladesh even though they have been in the country for centuries.
Most Rohingyas in Myanmar were stripped of their citizenship in the early 1990s.
The mass exodus of Rohingyas began almost two years ago when a Rohingya rebel group carried out a series of attacks against security posts in Rakhine state in western Myanmar, which unleashed a brutal campaign by the country’s army against the community.
United Nations observers have described the army crackdown as ethnic cleansing and possible genocide.