Bangladesh will begin to repatriate the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who last year fled a violent military crackdown in Myanmar, from Thursday onwards, an official said on Tuesday.
“As of now the decision is that the repatriation will start on November 15,” Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Abul Kalam told Efe news.
The two governments agreed to repatriate 2,251 of over 700,000 Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh camps, in the first of a phased process.
Kalam added that the initial phase of repatriation that begins Thursday could be completed in two weeks with around 150 Rohingyas going back to Myanmar each day.
Kalam, however, added that local authorities were yet to get the consent of Rohingyas who would be repatriated in the initial phase.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned that conditions are not safe for the repatriation of Rohingya to Myanmar from Bangladesh, even as the two countries were preparing for the return process.
A UNHCR spokesman in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, where Rohingyas are living in the cramped camps, told Efe news on Tuesday their role in repatriation is only to assess the “voluntariness of the refugees”.
“UNHCR will assess the voluntariness of the refugees. We will start this process very soon and we can’t speculate about the outcome,” said UNHCR spokesman Firas al-Khateeb.
“The government of Bangladesh has also emphasized that any returns will be voluntary,” he added.
The announcement of the Rohingya repatriation comes nearly a year after the two countries inked an agreement on November 23, 2017, to begin the process, following verification.
The exodus of the Rohingyas began on August 25, 2017 when a rebel group of the Muslim minority community launched a series of attacks on government posts in Rakhine state in western Myanmar.
The Myanmar army responded with an offensive that has been condemned globally for its rights abuses, including rape, torture, looting and torching of entire Rohingya villages.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had said the offensive had all the attributes of ethnic cleansing.