Myanmar border police secure the Hla Po Khaung transit camp intended for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh during a government-organized visit for journalists in Maungdaw, Rakhine State, on Aug. 23. (Photo by Phyo Hein Kyaw/AFP)
Myanmar will soon accept the first batch of over 2,000 Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh as part of a repatriation deal signed with Dhaka last year.
Aung Kyaw Zan, deputy permanent secretary at Myanmar's foreign affairs ministry, said they will accept over 2,260 Rohingya at a rate of 150 per day beginning from Nov. 15.
"As a next phase, another 2,000 people will be repatriated. We will steadily work out the repatriating process," Aung Kyaw Zan told ucanews.com.
The first round of 2,260 Rohingya are made up of 485 families from a list of 8,000 of the ethnic Muslim minority submitted by Bangladesh to Myanmar in February.
Nyi Pu, chief minister of Rakhine State, and other senior officials held meetings in Maungdaw on Nov. 4. They also inspected homes and other facilities at the Ngakhuya and Hla Po Khaung reception centers where the returning Rohingya will be housed, reported state-run Global New Light of Myanmar.
Calls for suspending repatriation
A meeting of the Joint Working Group of Bangladesh and Myanmar officials was held last week to oversee the repatriation of more than 800,000 Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh to escape Myanmar's military crackdowns in Rakhine State.
Most of that number fled to Bangladesh after a Myanmar military crackdown in August 2017 began following attacks on security personnel by Rohingya insurgents.
Rights groups have called for suspending the plan as they say it is not safe for Rohingya to return to Rakhine State where it is feared they will continue to face repression and discrimination.
Bill Frelick, Human Rights Watch's refugee rights director, said Myanmar's government keeps talking about returns but it has done nothing to allay the Rohingya's fears of being returned to face the same violence and oppression they fled.
"If Bangladesh moves forward on repatriations without the U.N., it will squander the international goodwill it has accrued over the past year as a host to Rohingya refugees," Frelick said in a statement on Nov.2.
Rakhine protest Rohingya return
More than 1,500 ethnic Rakhine from Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung regions took to the streets in Maungdaw on Nov. 4 to protest the Rohingya resettlement.
Win Thein, an ethnic Rakhine and one of the leaders of the protest, said he called on the government not to resettle Rohingya in southern Maungdaw, which has seen outbreaks of sectarian violence since the 1940s.
"Our sovereignty is very important, more important than prioritizing human rights of the Bengalis (Rohingya) who are illegal immigrants and not citizens of Myanmar," Win Thein told ucanews.com.
Most people in Myanmar insist on referring to the Rohingya as Bengalis, implying that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. However, vast numbers of Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for generations.
Win Thein added that local ethnic tribes such as Rakhine, Mro and Daingnet are very concerned about their security. He called for the government to build more ethnic villages in northern Rakhine because "Bengali villages have overwhelmed the region."
The returnees need to be scrutinized, he said. "And they must be put in a separate place closely watched by security officials prior to a verification process," he said.
Hatred and bigotry towards Rohingya is deeply rooted in Rakhine State.