Dhaka-Yangon approve Rohingya repatriation

Burma has approved, in principle, to restart a long-delayed voluntary repatriation program for Rohingya Muslim refugees living in the country, Bangladesh`s foreign Secretary Mohammad Shahidul Haque said.“We have encouraged the Burma government to restart the process. They have agreed and are looking for an appropriate time to restart the process,” Haque recently told The Myanmar Times.
“We would like to see the Burma’s nationals who are in Bangladesh return under safe conditions, voluntarily, back to their home. They can start a healthy and productive life in their own country.”
Burma and Bangladesh reached an agreement to resume the program during the annual foreign office consultations in Naypyitaw from June 12-17, according to the foreign secretary.
“A time frame for the implementation of the process has not yet been agreed upon and was contingent on many factors.”
Dhaka has been pushing for a resumption of the program since Burma refused to extend the original agreement past 2005. The process stopped completely in July 2005 after the Burma government refused to extend the deadline continuing to block some repatriation efforts. Plans to restart it in 2009 were stalled after about 9000 refugees cleared for repatriation refused to return.
Burma still refuses to recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic group, calling them Bengalis that implies they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and arrived during or after British occupation.
Bangladesh also refuses to recognize the term and objected when being interviewed, insisting they be called “undocumented Myanmar nationals”.
“We are willing to go back to Arakan state if we get our appropriate rights like other ethnic groups,” a Rohingya refugee teacher said.
“We have been living in Bangladesh refugee camp from 1991-92, but we don’t see our future. We are living in a big jail. We urgently want a durable solution.”
Large numbers entered Bangladesh in 1978 and again in 1991-92, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). More have sought refuge in Bangladesh and were turned away during the October and June clashes in Arakan state last year.
Bangladesh estimates there are about 30,000 documented refugees living in two camps in Cox’s Bazar.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Dipu Moni told a June parliamentary session that more than 500,000 of Burma’s refugees have entered the country illegally.
Haque told The Myanmar Times that he was unaware of anti-Muslim sentiments in Burma despite the recent outbreaks of violence towards the religious minority that has drawn international condemnation.
Refugees are very afraid that Bangladesh will forcibly repatriate the Rohingya refugees like they did before.
“If the situation is stable in Arakan State, we will go back, no need to agree for repatriation. (But) We have been denied the right of citizenship by the Burmese government,” said one refugee.
“We are surprised. Thousands of Rohingyas have been displaced and many were killed. The situation is going from bad to worse day by day. Why the Bangladesh government would proposes to the Burmese government to repatriate the Rohingya refugees?
Bangladeshi authorities has arrested more than 313 Rohingyas from different areas of the Bangladesh border this month alone, according to a local named Hashim.
“The concerned authorities of Bangladesh arrested Rohingyas people in different raids. Some were caught entering Bangladesh and others were arrested while they were going to Cox’s Bazar from Teknaf and refugee camps for work. Some were deported back to Burma and others are in jail.”
According to various sources, a combined force made up of police, Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and even the coast guard nabbed them at Shapuridip, Teknaf, Dumdum Meah, Taungbro and Whykong, a BGB check post.
Many Rohingya Muslims are trying to trying to seek refuge in Bangladesh to escape persecution in Burma. They face daily harassment and human rights abuses that include murder by the Burmese government and the Rakhine population.
There is no security for Rohingyas in Arakan state so they have no option but to flee their homeland by boat, said one student who recently crossed the Burma-Bangladesh border.
The BGB deported 19 Rohingyas to Burma from the Cox’s Bazar border on June 20, according to official sources.
“We have no security in Arakan, Burma and Bangladesh, where are we supposed to go?” a Rohingya elder told the Kaladanpress.
(Burma News International)

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