More Rohingya flee to Bangladesh despite Burma repatriation deal
The process to allow refugees to return is expected to take about two years following an agreement struck in November.
Rohingya refugees are continuing to flee from Burma into Bangladesh, despite the two countries saying they will begin repatriating members of the minority ethnic group next week, Bangladesh officials said.
More than 650,000 Rohingya Muslims poured into Bangladesh after Burma’s military launched a brutal crackdown against them in August.
More than 100 Rohingya have entered Bangladesh in the past two days, according to Mohammed Mikaruzzaman, a top official in Bangladesh’s Ukhiya sub-district, where the refugees are living in a number of camps.
Mr Mikaruzzaman would not say why the latest refugees fled, but the Bangladeshi media said some reported being forced by the Burmese military to work without pay and food.
Burma and Bangladesh signed an agreement in November on repatriating Rohingya refugees, and officials said earlier this week that some would return to Burma beginning next Tuesday. The process is expected to take about two years.
However, it is unclear if there will be more than a handful of symbolic repatriations. Mr Mikaruzzaman said very few preparations had been made.
“I have visited some border points to see the possible routes for repatriation over last few days, but we have not finalized anything yet,” he said, calling it a “huge task” to co-ordinate among government departments, international agencies and the Rohingya.
Many Rohingya have expressed fears about going back to Burma.
A statement issued on Thursday by nearly two dozen Rohingya organisations around the world demanded security guarantees for the refugees and their property before they return.
The statement said there had been “no change of attitude of the Burmese government and its military toward Rohingya”.
Under the November agreement, Rohingya will need to provide evidence of their residency in Burma in order to return — something many do not have.
Rohingya Muslims are denied citizenship in Burma, along with many basic rights, though many have lived in the predominately Buddhist country for generations. They are widely seen as illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
In Burma, a top official insisted the repatriations would begin as planned, with the paperwork for the first 1,100 refugees already finished in both countries.
Win Myat Aye, the minister of social welfare, relief and resettlement, said: “These refugees can be sent on January 23 because they are already verified to come back.”
Rohingya began fleeing to Bangladesh when Burma’s military launched a crackdown after a militant group attacked police posts. Burma’s army described it as clearance operations against terrorists, but the United Nations and the US have called it ethnic cleansing.