Repatriation of Rohingyas postponed: Future of refugees hangs in the balance
Dhaka, Jan 23: By now, Rohingya refugees, living without basic human rights in the crowded makeshift camps of Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar, have accepted uncertainties and miseries in their lives as something 'normal'.
On Monday, just a day before the beginning of the much-discussed repatriation process of Muslim Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, all of a sudden Bangladesh decided to postpone sending them back to their native country.
It was after several rounds of talks and negotiations, both Bangladesh and Myanmar decided to start the repatriation of Rohingyas from January 23. Currently, the whole process has been postponed indefinitely, say reports.
An official from Bangladesh told AP, "The process of compiling and verifying the list of people to be sent back is incomplete, transit camps where they will stay are not yet ready and a number of issues remain unresolved."
On January 16, Bangladesh and Myanmar "finalised an agreement" to send back thousands of Rohingya refugees to their homeland in Myanmar from their temporary 'home' in Bangladesh.
Since August last year, at least 688,000 Rohingyas have fled Myanmar after violence broke out in the Rakhine State and have taken shelter in Bangladesh.
According to the agreement, the whole repatriation process would have lasted for two years as it involves millions of refugees.
Bangladesh's refugee relief and rehabilitation commissioner Abul Kalam said the repatriation process would have to be delayed. "There are many things remaining," he told Reuters. "The main thing is that the process has to be voluntary," Kalam added.
The decision of Bangladesh to halt the repatriation process was preceded by protests raised by Rohingyas, who were reluctant to go back to their homeland unless the Myanmar government assured them enough security.
The Rohingyas sent a petition to the Myanmar government last week where they have raised several demands, including citizenship rights. The Rohingyas also asked the Myanmar government to include the community on a list of the country's recognised ethnic groups.
The Rohingyas asked the Myanmar government to return their land to rebuild their homes, mosques and schools. The community also wants the military to be held accountable for the alleged killing, looting and rape of Rohingyas during the violence that broke out in 2017.
Myanmar, on its part, maintains that the country is ready to receive the Rohingyas. "We are ready to accept them once they come back," Ko Ko Naing, director general of Myanmar's ministry of social welfare, relief and resettlement, said.
Amid international criticism for alleged forceful eviction of refugees from Bangladesh, the government of the country had earlier stated that it won't force the Rohingya refugees to go back to Myanmar.
"It will be voluntary. In all of our documents, (that Bangladesh, Myanmar signed) we have mentioned that it will be a voluntary return. We'll not force them to go back," Bangladesh's foreign minister AH Mahmood Ali told journalists after briefing Dhaka-based diplomats about the repatriation plan on Sunday.
The United Nations (UN) has described the alleged violence against Rohingyas in Myanmar as "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing". Officials of the UN maintain that the situation in Myanmar is still not conducive to the return of the Rohingyas.