The much-awaited repatriation of nearly 2,500 Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh is again stalled due to delay in formalities which were supposed to start after Myanmar had agreed on it two months back.
Myanmar agreed at the crucial bilateral talks with Bangladesh on August 31 to form a 'Working Group' which would process the formalities to repatriate the 'verified' Rohingya refugees languishing in two camps managed by United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Coxs Bazar in Bangladesh for decades.
In August, Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque led the Bangladesh side in the eighth Foreign Secretary level talks and Deputy Foreign Minister U Thant Kyaw led the Myanmar side.
After years of parleys, it was agreed that a Working group would be formed in two months to work out the timeline for the repatriation of the refugees, an official said.
But the Myanmar government has not yet nominated any official for the Working Group, highly placed sources in the Foreign Office said.
Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Asud Ahmed regretted that the Working Group could begin its expected process to repatriate the Rohingyas, despite the fact that a small number of 2,415 out of over 32,000 registered Myanmar citizens would be repatriated at this phase. However, the agreement with Myanmar was a breakthrough, the senior official remarked.
The disagreement with Myanmar officials was about the definition of "undocumented" Rohingya refugees. In addition Naypyidaw (the capital of Myanmar) does not acknowledge the refugees as their nationals either, instead it registered them as "Bengali".
The officials, therefore, at the bilateral talks did not raise the issue of another 3 lakh to 5 lakh undocumented Myanmar nationals living inside Bangladesh until a national census determines their nationality and the total number of Rohingyas in the country, official sources said.
The 'confidence building" initiative, which Bangladesh claimed a major breakthrough at the August 31 Foreign Office Consultation (FOC) has faced yet another stumbling block, an official said.
However, he said the issue needs to be overcome through continued dialogue with its friendly neighbour.
An inter-ministerial meeting is expected to be held in the first week of November to initiate the procedure. After formation of a Working Group in the meeting, the Foreign Ministry will inform Myanmar of the development, the official confided.
Ethnic clashes in Myanmar's Rakhine province forced thousands of Muslim Rohingyas to flee into Bangladesh. This has been one of the main irritants in Dhaka-Naypyidaw relations.