The Myanmar government has said it will repatriate only the Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh whose right to residency in Myanmar is proven in the ongoing verification process.
The country’s social welfare, relief and resettlement minister made the announcement while touring the Kutupalong Refugee Camp in Cox’s Bazar on Wednesday.
Win Myat Aye’s visit was the first by a Myanmar minister to a Rohingya camp since the latest wave of violence erupted in Rakhine state on August 25 last year, forcing at least 700,000 of the ethnic minority to flee into Bangladesh.
The minister began his visit by holding a tense, hour-long meeting with refugee representatives prior to arriving at Kutupalong camp at around 10:50am.
During the meeting, Win Myat Aye explained the three-step process of repatriation to the Rohingya leaders, explaining the verification, registration and temporary shelter stages.
“We will need time to complete it,” the minister said. “They [Rohingyas] will be shifted to their own houses once we are done reconstructing their destroyed houses.”
The refugee representatives refused to accept his assurances.
“The minister told us that after repatriation of the verified Rohingyas, we will be given a National Verification Card which will give us access to hospitals and bazaars,” community representative Sayed Ullah said.
“We do not want to stay in a temporary shelter. We want to go back to our houses.”
Another Rohingya leader, Mohibullah, told the minister that his people should not even require the cards.
“The National Verification Card is for foreigners and we are not foreigners,” he said. “Myanmar is our home and we had been living there for generation after generation, so why should we accept the card which is for foreigners?”
Sayed Ullah said that some of the Rohingyas had showed Win Myat Aye their parents’ proof of citizenship for Myanmar.
“The minister told us that our parents might be the citizens of Myanmar but we are not,” Sayed said.
“He is telling us that we do not belong to Myanmar, that we are Bangalis. I do not understand; if our parents are from Myanmar, then how come we belong to a neighbouring country?”
On behalf of the refugees, the Rohingya leaders gave the Myanmar minister a letter titled “Repatriation Demands of Rohingya”. In it, they placed their 13 demands and made it clear that they do not feel safe enough to return to Arakan (Rakhine state), and will only return once it become safer and sustainable for them to do so.
The Rohingya repatriation agreement under which their safe and imminent return is supposed to be assured was signed by the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar on November 23, 2017.
On January 16, both countries also signed a document on “Physical Arrangement”, which will facilitate the return of the Rohingyas to their homeland from their temporary shelters in Cox’s Bazar.
“Bangladesh is not my country; I do not belong to this place,” Sayed said in Wednesday’s meeting. “I want to go back to my country in Myanmar, and I want my rights as a citizen. The minister is talking about everything but our citizenship, which is our highest priority.”
Wednesday’s meeting was attended by 33 Rohingya representatives and 17 Myanmar officials, plus three officials from the Bangladesh foreign ministry and the Cox’s Bazar refugee relief and repatriation commissioner (RRRC), Mohammad Abul Kalam.
Around 250 Rohingya refugees staged demonstrations in front of the Kutupalong camp during the minister’s visit, holding banners seeking justice for the “genocide” of their people in Myanmar.
The demonstrators clashed with police, who then charged at them with batons in order to bring the situation under control.