Fresh Rohingya return bid next week
Myanmar and Bangladesh have agreed to start a fresh attempt next week to repatriate thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state, Reuters has reported citing officials of both countries.
A total of 3,540 refugees have been cleared for return by Myanmar from a list of more than 22,000 names recently sent by Bangladesh, officials from both countries told the news agency on Thursday, nearly a year after a major attempt failed.
The first group of refugees would return to Myanmar next week, providing any agree to go back, according to the report
"We have agreed to the repatriation of 3,540 people on August 22," Myint Thu, a spokesman for Myanmar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Reuters by phone.
A senior Bangladeshi official told Reuters the new effort was a "small-scale" repatriation plan, adding that nobody will be forced to return.
"Bangladesh wants nothing but a safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable repatriation," said the official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak to media, according to the report.
Mohammed Eleyas, a Rohingya activist with the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, said refugees had not been consulted about the process.
Myanmar should agree to the key demands of the community before repatriation begins, he said in a message.
UN officials have been asked to survey the refugees verified by Myanmar to determine whether they want to return, according to internal emails by the refugee agency, UNHCR, seen by Reuters.
"UNHCR will provide refugees with the relevant and reliable information available on the conditions in Myanmar, subject to current constraint on access in the areas of return," one of the emails said.
A UNHCR spokeswoman referred questions to Myanmar's ministry of foreign affairs.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya remain inside Myanmar, confined to camps and villages across Rakhine state where they are denied citizenship and their movements restricted. -Reuters