Bangladesh ready to start Rohingya repatriations

Dhaka: Bangladesh said on Monday it would be ready to start the repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar on 22 August, nearly two years after members of the Muslim minority fled violence in the western state of Rakhine in light of a military crackdown.

“Our transit camp, our transpiration arrangement, our security arrangement, everything is nearly complete,” Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, Abul Kalam Azad, told the Efe news.

“Tomorrow the interview process will start, our people are working day in and out and we have deployed enough people. We have also decided the route. Primarily we will use the land route. If everything goes alright the repatriation will start on 22nd August,” he said.

Azad added that in the first phase 3,450 members of the ethnic minority who have been verified by Myanmar will be repatriated.

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These individuals were some of 22,432 individuals whose names Bangladesh shared with Myanmar for the purpose of assessing their eligibility to return in October last year.

“In support of the government of Bangladesh we have begun information sharing for all refugees across the settlements, and also informing of those refugees who are cleared for return,” UNHCR spokesman Joseph Surjamoni Tripura said.

The repatriation move comes a year and a half after a major repatriation attempt floundered when refugees refused to return to the country they had fled amid fears of fresh violence.

The mass exodus began on 25 August 2017, when Myanmar’s army launched an offensive in Rakhine state – which borders Bangladesh – with the purported aim of suppressing Rohingya insurgents.

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Since the 2017 crackdown, almost a million Rohingya refugees – most of them women and children – languish amid poor sanitary conditions within sprawling refugee camps in the eastern Bangladeshi coastal city of Cox’s Bazaar.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute in July denounced Myanmar’s “minimal preparation” for the return of Rohingya refugees through an analysis of satellite images of the region.

According to the ASPI, some 320 out of the 392 Rohingya villages that were razed to the ground during the 2017 military operation show no signs of reconstruction.

The UN observers have described the army crackdown as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and “possible genocide” and underlined the need for a return process that is safe, dignified and voluntary.

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