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Rohingyas sceptical despite Myanmar's assurances of repatriation

  • Published at 07:45 pm October 31st, 2018
Rohingya-children-Rohingya-camp-12-10-18
File photo of Rohingya children at a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Bangladesh is currently sheltering more than one million Rohingyas at different refugee camps in Cox's Bazar

Myanmar Foreign Secretary Myint Thu, also  the head of the Myanmar representative team of the Joint Working Group (JWG) for repatriation, has promised to start the process of Rohingya repatriation by November 2018.

He made the pledge while visiting the Rohingya camps in Ukhiya upazila of Cox's Bazar on Wednesday. 

A plane carrying a 16-member team, led by Thu, landed in Cox's Bazar Airport around 11am. Upon reaching the Ukhiya camp, Thu held meetings with different local duty officials as well as international NGOs . He later met with hundreds of Rohingya representatives, to listen to their demands.

Thu assured that the repatriation of the Rohingyas would begin this November, and emphasized on recognizing them as Myanmar citizens at a press briefing held in the D-5 community hall of Kutupalong Rohingya camp after the meetings ended.

Bangladeshi representative of the JWG Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque, Divisional Commissioner of Chittagong Md Abdul Mannan, Cox's Bazar Refugee Aid and Repatriation Commissioner Md Abul Kalam, Deputy Commissioner of Cox's Bazar Md Kamal Hossain, Superintendent of Cox's Bazar police ABM Masud Hossain and Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) of Ukhiya Md Nikaruzzaman were also present at the press briefing.

This is the second time a high ranking delelgation  from Myanmar has visited the camps since the exodus of Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh began on August 25, 2017.

Rohingyas doubtful

Despite the Myanmar foreign secretary's assurances, most of the population living in the makeshift camps in Ukhiya are viewing his promises as far fetched, and their minds are still shadowed with doubt . 

The displaced Rohingyas demanded the right to citizenship during Thu's discussions with their representatives. During the session, they also narrated their harrowing tales of brutality at the hands of the Myanmar army. 

Abdur Rahim, a local Rohingya leader, told this correspondent: "We talked about the hardships we have faced in the 14 months since we have been here. We also reiteratied our demands, including the right to citizenship and reclamation of our lands and property.

Bangladesh and Myanmar officials of the Joint Working Group at a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar on October 31, 2019 | Abdul Aziz/Dhaka Tribune

"But when I asked him why we will not be allowed to stay in the transit camp in Myanmar for more than three days, Thu did not answer my question," he said.

Rohingya leader Mohib Ullah said: "We also demanded the Rohingyas currently living in the Akyab Rohingya camp [in Myanmar] be taken back to Rakhine and given the chance to roam freely. This will automatically facilitate our return."

"The foreign secretary told us to secure a National Investigation Card (NID) as soon as possible after reaching Myanmar," said Sekufa Begum. "If this condition needs to fulfilled, we will not leave Bangladesh."

Echoing similar sentiments, another Rohingya leader, Abdur Rahim, said: "After we asked for an escort from an international security team to Rakhine, and for our status to be recognized similarly to the other 135 ethnic communities in Myanmar, Thu said it will be discussed with higher officials when he returns to Myanmar.

"This shows that the whole repatriation deal is a farce," he complained. "We are not assured by Myanmar's false promises."

Numerous other Rohingyas present during Thu's meeting echoed Abdur Rahim's sentiments.

In the press briefing, Thu said the repatriation process will start from November 15. Initially, 5,000 verified and later 2,000 verified Rohingyas will be repatriated in two phases. 

He also promised to meet the demands raised by the Rohingyas.

Replying to reporters' questions, Thu further said: "We have heard of their [Rohingyas'] demands. Their demands will be discussed with the higher authorities after I return to Myanmar."

Bangladeshi representatives on the JWG refused to talk to reporters.

The Myanmar representatives  reached Dhaka to join the third meeting of the JWG on Tuesday. Later, after visiting the Ukhiya camps in the morning, the 16-member team left for Dhaka on Thursday afternoon.

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