Is it a PR stunt by B’desh, Myanmar to send Rohingya refugees back home?
Dhaka, Dec 20: The politics over the plight of Rohingya refugees is refusing to die down easily. This year, beginning from August, the world witnessed one of its worst refugee crises when thousands of Rohingyas left their homes in the Rakhine State of Myanmar to Bangladesh to avoid violence and persecution at the hands of the country's army.
Till now, more than six lakh Rohingyas have fled Myanmar and have taken shelter in Bangladesh. Bangladesh, on its part, has clearly stated that it can't take care of food, shelter and healthcare of millions of refugees because of its limited resources.
However, the Bangladesh government clarified that since it is a humanitarian issue involving millions of people it has given temporary shelter to the Rohingyas.
Initially, the Myanmar government was reluctant to take back its own people, but because of the international pressure, it has now "officially" agreed for the repatriation of Rohingyas.
On Tuesday, Bangladesh and Myanmar reaffirmed their commitment to begin repatriating Rohingya refugees in January, despite rights groups warning that their safety is still not assured should they return.
The foreign secretaries of Bangladesh and Myanmar met in Dhaka to finalise the agreement signed on November 23 for the voluntary return of nearly three-quarters of a million stateless Rohingya living in refugee camps along the border.
A new working group would "ensure commencement of repatriation within two months" by developing a timetable for the verification of refugee identities and logistics of their return, Bangladesh's foreign ministry said in a statement.
"Now, we will start the next step of our work," Bangladesh foreign minister AH Mahmood Ali told reporters after the meeting.
The reaffirmation comes a day after Human Rights Watch, citing the analysis of satellite imagery, said Myanmar's army burned down dozens of Rohingya homes within days of signing the repatriation deal with Bangladesh.
The watchdog said the deal was "a public relations stunt" and warned it contained no guarantee the Rohingya would be safe should they return to Myanmar's conflict-wracked Rakhine state.
An estimated 655,000 refugees from the stateless minority group have poured across the border into Bangladesh since August, fleeing what the United States (US) and United Nations (UN) have described as ethnic cleansing.
Last week the group Doctors Without Borders released a survey which found that nearly 7,000 Rohingya had been killed in the first month of the Rakhine violence.
The military has put the number in the hundreds and denied targeting civilians or committing atrocities, while Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi said major security operations stopped in early September.
Responding to international pressure, Suu Kyi's civilian government signed an agreement with Bangladesh to start the repatriation of the stateless Muslim refugees within two months.
The agreement promises the "safe and voluntary return" of displaced Rohingya in Bangladesh -- not just the latest 655,000 new arrivals but more than 70,000 from a separate influx in October 2016.
Testimonies gathered by AFP from displaced Rohingya in Bangladesh suggest few refugees wish to return to Myanmar, where many saw their villages burned to ashes and loved ones killed.
Activists admit that it is the right of Rohingyas to return to their homeland, however, warn both the Bangladesh and Myanmar governments not to take any hasty steps in regard to the repatriation of refugees as the situation in the Rakhine State is still not conducive.