After Myanmar claimed it had “repatriated” the first family of Rohingya refugees among 700,000 who fled a brutal crackdown in the country’s Rakhine state, the Bangladesh government said the return of only one family cannot be regarded as repatriation in any way.
“Several thousand families have been stranded in the no man’s land between Bangladesh and Myanmar. Since the family did not enter Bangladesh, and used to live in the no man’s land, their return cannot be considered repatriation, Relief and Refugee Repatriation Commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam said on Sunday.
“They were not under our jurisdiction; therefore, we cannot confirm whether there would be more people waiting to go back [to Myanmar], he said, adding that the two neighbours had not yet started the Rohingya repatriation process.
In a statement on Saturday, the Myanmar government claimed: “Five members of a Muslim family came to the Taungpyoletwea reception centre in Rakhine state in the morning.”
Aftar Alam and the other four of his family were scrutinized by immigration and health ministry officials and the social welfare, relief and resettlement ministry provided them with “materials such as rice, mosquito netting, blankets, T-shirt, longyis (Burmese sarong) and kitchen utensils,” the statement added.
It said the family members who “are in line with the rules” were issued the National Verification Cards (NVCs) upon entering Myanmar.
NVCs are part of the government’s ongoing effort to register Rohingyas, although it falls short of offering them citizenship. The card has been widely rejected by Rohingya community leaders, who say they treat life-long residents like new immigrants.
The family had been sent to stay “temporarily” with relatives in Maungdaw town after “finishing the repatriation process,” the statement added. But it did not mention plans for further returnees expected in the near future.
A Rohingya community leader confirmed the family’s return.
Photos posted alongside the statement showed a man, two women, a young girl and a boy receiving NVCs and getting health checks.
Myanmar officials could not be reached for more details.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal echoed Kalam, saying that taking back only one Rohingya family out of thousands of people living in the no man’s land is nothing but a ridiculous move of the Myanmar government.
He said: “The Rohingya family that the Myanmar government claimed was taken back to their home country used to live in the no man’s land. They had never come to Bangladesh for shelter.
“The return of only one family out of at least 6,000 Rohingyas, living in miserable conditions in the no man’s land, is really ridiculous.”
“More than 1.1 million Rohingya people have crossed into Bangladesh from Myanmar’s Rakhine state. We have completed biometric registration of the refugees and handed their data over to the Myanmar government,” the minister added, expressing his hopes that Myanmar would take back its citizens in the quickest possible time.
The Myanmar government’s step was slammed by rights groups as a publicity stunt which ignored warnings over the security of returnees, according to AFP.
The move came despite repeated warnings from the UN and other rights groups that a mass repatriation of Rohingya would be premature, as Myanmar has yet to address the systematic legal discrimination and persecution the minority has faced for decades.
The Rohingya Muslims are reviled by many in the Buddhist-majority country, where they are branded as illegal “Bangali” immigrants from Bangladesh, despite their long roots in Rakhine state.
They have been targeted by waves of violence, systematically stripped of their citizenship and forced to live in apartheid-like conditions with severely restricted access to health care, education and other basic services.
Andrea Giorgetta from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) blasted the repatriation announcement as “a public relations exercise in an attempt to deflect attention from the need for accountability for crimes committed in Rakhine state”.
“Before proceeding with the repatriation of Rohingya, the Myanmar government must recognize and guarantee all their fundamental human rights,” he said.
Around 6,500 Rohingyas have taken shelter in the no man’s land since August 25 last year, when ethnic conflicts in Rakhine sparked the most rapid human exodus seen since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
Doctors Without Borders says the violence claimed at least 6,700 Rohingya lives in the first month alone.
Since then, over 700,000 others have crossed into Bangladesh fearing for their lives, joining more than 400,000 others who were already living in cramped makeshift camps in Cox’s Bazar.
On November 23, Dhaka and Naypyidaw signed an agreement to begin repatriating the refugees from January this year, but this process stalled over technical and ground-level complexities.
Sections of this article were taken from banglatribune.com