Dhaka [Bangladesh]: A visiting delegation of Myanmar government officials to Cox’s Bazar, the southeast coastal district in Bangladesh with the largest number of Rohingya camps, held repatriation talks with the Muslim minority on Saturday and tried to convince them to return to their homeland.
The purpose of Saturday’s visit was “to talk with Rohingya refugees in order to convince them to return to their home country,” Md Delwar Hossain, director general at Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry, told Al Jazeera.
The 15-member delegation, led by the permanent secretary of Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry, Myint Thu, held a four-hour meeting with community leaders, including women, from the refugee community.
More than 700,000 Rohingya were forced to flee the northern Rakhine in western Myanmar following a brutal military crackdown in 2017. The United Nations said the offensive included mass killings and gang rapes executed with “genocidal intent”.
Followingly, the minorities took shelter in three dozen camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, pushing the number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to above 1.2 million. Many still fear for their safety if they return to Myanmar where the Muslim minority has faced decades of repression.
Earlier in the day, hundreds from the sprawling camps gathered at the centre where the Myanmar delegation was meeting Rohingya leaders but were dispersed by the Bangladeshi police.
“We came here to meet the Myanmar delegates to get some answers to our questions but we were not allowed to meet them,” Safari Alam, a Rohingya refugee, told Al Jazeera.
Khaled Hossain, another Rohingya refugee, was quoted as saying, “If they recognise us as Rohingya and give us citizenship cards we’ll go back there in one second.”
The new visit comes following talks between Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing.
Bangladesh and Myanmar had signed a repatriation deal in November 2017, but so far virtually no Rohingya have volunteered to return. Bangladesh has said it will not force any Rohingya to leave the country.
Last November, a move to start the repatriation process fell through after none of the Rohingya agreed to return to Myanmar. It followed a visit to the camps in October last year by a Myanmar delegation.
Speaking to reporters in Dhaka on Wednesday, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said he hoped the “repatriation will begin by September”.
Myanmar has been facing international pressure to allow the Rohingya to return to Rakhine and grant them citizenship rights. The United Nations has complained that progress to address the refugee crisis has been far too slow.