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Myanmar to resume repatriating Rohingyas

Process of return from Bangladesh to start before year end

<p>Refugees at one of the unofficial camps in the Cox's Bazar district of Bangladesh (Picture: Rock Ronald Rozario)</p>

Refugees at one of the unofficial camps in the Cox's Bazar district of Bangladesh (Picture: Rock Ronald Rozario)

  • Rock Ronald Rozario, Dhaka
  • Bangladesh
  • September 1, 2014
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After a hiatus of almost a decade, the Myanmar government has agreed to resume the repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh.

Following a bilateral meeting in Dhaka on Sunday August 31, Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque told reporters that the repatriation process would start again “within the next two months”.

“This is a remarkable development and we hope it will foster good relationship between two countries,” he said. “Myanmar is changing now and it’s a good time for both nations to improve mutual relations.”

The Rohingya issue was a high priority in the day’s series of foreign secretary-level meetings, which were aimed at achieving a framework agreement on trust and cooperation for development.

The process will resume with the return of 2,415 refugees whose Bangladesh nationalities have already been investigated and verified by Myanmar authorities.

Despite being neighbors, Bangladesh and Myanmar have had thorny relations over the Rohingya people, who are mostly Muslims. When Myanmar last halted repatriations in 2005, it did so without offering any specific reason.

Myanmar considers the Rohingyas as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and has strongly resisted offering them citizenship, yet they are equally unwelcome in Bangladesh.

In western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, they have frequently been subjected to systematic abuse and violence at the hands of extremist Buddhists. The United Nations Refugee Agency termed Rohingya people “the world’s most persecuted minority.”

Since 1978, thousands have fled, many to the Cox’s Bazar district where around 30,000 Rohingyas reside in two official camps, relying on government and NGO aid for survival. As many as 300,000 reside in unofficial makeshift camps, under strict restrictions on movement.

The Bangladesh government adopted its current tough policy on the refugees in June 2012 when the latest bout of violence erupted in Rakhine. Thousands were prevented from arriving by boat and turned away, despite criticism from the international community.

The same year, the government banned three international aid agencies from working with undocumented Rohingyas, claiming that their efforts only attracted more refugees to attempt to breach the border.

Abdul Motaleb, 64, a Rohingya refugee at one of the unofficial camps in Cox’s Bazar says he will not return unless he is guaranteed a peaceful life. 

“We fled to Bangladesh to save our lives and we will go back only if we are assured of an end to torture and abuse in Rakhine,” he told ucanews.com.

“Refugees in the official camps have much better conditions because they get all the necessary facilities - housing, food and health services. Everyone talks about them, but nobody talks about us. We get nothing.” 

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