Television journalists were eager to get precise information about the transit point so that they could get their shots of refugees crossing the border, and everyone waited for RRRC chief Md Abul Kalam to exit the office and shed some light on what may transpire
Journalists from various national and international news media had gathered at the office of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC) in Cox’s Bazar early in the morning on Thursday, hoping to learn the details of the repatriation process of Rohingya refugees that was scheduled to begin.
Television journalists were eager to get precise information about the transit point so that they could get their shots of refugees crossing the border, and everyone waited for RRRC chief Md Abul Kalam to exit the office and shed some light on what may transpire.
After two hours of waiting, the commissioner came out from the building and said the RRRC would now go to Unchiprang camp to take the willing Rohingyas to Ghumdum border point at Naikhongchhari and hand them over to Myanmar authorities.
But what followed, was a day of running around from camp to camp, checkpoint, and transit point, and for those who hired CNG-run auto-rickshaws, a series of mercilessly bumpy rides.
Journalists rushed to the Ghumdum border first, expecting to see the RRRC bringing Rohingyas to the transit point. Commissioner Kalam had said in his briefing that they planned to transfer the first Rohingya group at 2pm.
Reporters were already sceptical that repatriation would begin on Thursday, as the commissioner on Wednesday did not give a definite answer when asked whether it would begin as scheduled. When the first batch of Rohingyas did not arrive at 2pm, everyone’s doubts were confirmed.
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International organizations, including the UNHCR, had warned against forcing the Rohingya refugees to go back as soon as Bangladesh and Myanmar signed the repatriation agreement. Bangladesh agreed, and no refugee was going to be sent to be sent back to Myanmar unless they chose to do so.
However, not all members of the media were on the same page. Many of the journalists, particularly those resided in Cox’s Bazar, felt the UNHCR was putting an undue burden on Bangladesh by demanding it retain the refugees even though preparations for repatriation to begin had been completed.
After 2pm, we decided to leave the Gundum border area to go to the Unchiprang camp, from where news of a Rohingya protest against repatriation had reached us. We also knew that the RRRC convoy was there to bring the refugees back to the transit point.
Half an hour into our journey to Unchiprang, we reached Commissioner Kalam over phone, and he told us that no one wanted to go back to Myanmar and he was on his way to the transit point. We wanted to travel along with his convoy, and decided to return to the transit point as well.
However, when we reached the transit camp, the RRRC convoy was already leaving it. We followed the procession of white cars.
After a while, they reached the Kutupalong camp. The RRRC team, clearly exhausted, finally took a lunch break around 3:15pm. We were the only journalists there.
We waited for them to finish lunch, and went inside the office to get the latest updates from the commissioner. Once we confirmed that the repatriation process was not going to begin, got his quote, and made numerous phone calls, we had our story.
At half past seven, when we finally sat down for our own lunch, which doubled up as dinner. But our day was not yet done, and a lot of report writing was still left. Though we dreaded the remaining work, we did not let that get in the way of us enjoying our hard earned meal at Niribili restaurant on Kolatoli Road.