Rohingya refugee children play at Balukhali camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh on March 15. (Photo by Stephan Uttom)
The return of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar has again stalled after Bangladesh and Myanmar officials failed to fix a start date for actual repatriation.
A Joint Working Group responsible for overseeing the repatriation of Rohingya refugees held its second meeting in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka in four months, but were unable to agree on a date to begin any repatriation efforts, reported English daily The Daily Star.
Fifteen officials from Bangladesh and Myanmar attended the May 17 meeting.
"This type of repatriation is always complex and difficult," Shahidul Haque Bangladesh Foreign Secretary told reporters after the meeting. "But there is no difference of opinion that the repatriation should happen," he said. "Both the sides feel that the repatriation should be done quickly."
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a repatriation deal in November last year. The process was set to begin in January but Bangladesh postponed citing a lack of preparations on its behalf.
The Bangladeshis have given Myanmar a list of more than 8,000 refugees but no Rohingya have yet been repatriated.
State-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported that Myanmar officials attending the most recent joint working meeting reiterated they are ready to receive verified displaced persons from Bangladesh.
The report added that the third Joint Working Group meeting will be held in Naypyidaw but no date or venue had been fixed.
Lack of progress disappoints Rohingya
Many Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have reacted angrily at the failure to set a date for repatriation.
"There were two meetings without any result," said Muhammad Rezwan, 23, a Rohingya refugee who fled to Bangladesh with his family in October last year. "This is really disappointing for refugees who don't want to remain here as a burden for Bangladesh," said Rezwan who now lives in the Kutupalong refugee camp.
"We can understand Myanmar is unwilling to take us back, so they are trying to delay the process," he said.
Nur Hashem, 34, from Balukhali refugee camp echoed similar sentiments.
"Rohingya are eager to go back to their ancestral land and start over new life. The uncertainty over repatriation is heartbreaking for them," said Hashem who fled to Bangladesh in August last year.
Mazharul Islam, a Caritas disaster management officer, said refugees want to return to their homes in Rakhine State but remain concerned about safety issues.
"We don't have a clear picture of the situation in Rakhine or whether it is safe enough to send back refugees," said Islam who is based in Cox's Bazar.
"Both Bangladesh and Myanmar need to work with the U.N. to make sure Rakhine has a favorable environment conducive for the safe and dignified repatriation of refugees," he said.
Sprawling refugee camps in Cox's Bazar of Bangladesh shelter up to one million Rohingya Muslims who fled various bouts of brutal persecution in Myanmar's Rakhine State.
Two military crackdowns in October 2016 and August 2017, in response to Rohingya militant attacks, forced more than 770,000 Rohingya to cross the border into Bangladesh.
Additional reporting by John Zaw in Mandalay