Monday, 28 September 2020

By Tin Soe

Dhaka, Bangladesh: The Burmese authorities yesterday agreed to soon take back around 9,000 of its nationals out of 28,000, who are staying in two UNHCR controlled camps in Cox’s Bazaar as registered refugees, the foreign secretary Mohamed Mijarul Quayes told reporters after the first day's talks at foreign ministry office.

"Of the 28,000 registered refugees, Myanmar has identified 9,000 through verification as their citizens,” the foreign secretary said.

It has already identified 9,000 refugees as their citizens while the identities of the rest of the 19,000 refugees are yet to be confirmed, the secretary said.

"Their repatriation will start within the shortest possible time," said the foreign secretary.

He told reporters "We have put pressure on Burma for the repatriation of the registered refugees in Bangladesh and they have assured us that they will start as soon as possible."

Quayes said he visited the two refugee camps in Cox's Bazaar district last week. The foreign secretary said besides the two camps, there are many makeshift thatched houses.

"The UNHCR has told us that the people living in the makeshift houses are unregistered Burmese nationals.

Some international observers have proposed to Bangladesh to integrate the Rohingya. But Dhaka has rejected the suggestion, saying such a move would open a floodgate of refugees.

Burma has no reservation to take them back after nationality verification of the undocumented refugees.

Dhaka says there are nearly 30,000 Rohingyas in two official camps in south-eastern Bangladesh, and another 300,000 living illegally elsewhere.

Quayes was speaking at the end of the first day of foreign-secretary level talks. Burmese Deputy Foreign Minister Maung Myint, arrived in Dhaka on Monday to lead his side in the two-day bilateral talks.

A similar move to repatriate the 9,000 refugees was initiated in 2005 after the Burmese military rulers identified them as their nationals. But only 90 refugees could be sent back between January and May that year as the process stopped following tension on the border.

“We want to go back to our homeland, if we get equal rights same as other ethnic groups of Burma and citizen’s rights,” said an elder refugee in the official camp who didn’t show his identity.

“From 1992 to 1995, the UNHCR and the Bangladesh government sent back refugees to their homeland without accepting any condition from the refugee’s side by force. Most of the refugees faced harassment and torture with jail terms after repatriation,” he added.

“When we were forcibly repatriated to Arakan State, we got just 2000 Kyat per head and one canvas sheet, one sack of rice, some kilograms of beans, edible oil and some food with plates and pans of kitchenware. But, the UNHCR in Bangladesh told us we will get a home or material and the place where we lived before. We don’t get it and the regime located us far from the villages where we were not able to go to work because of movement restriction. There was no school and we were compelled to leave the place after staying for five or seven years. We again entered Bangladesh as illegal refugees, said Hakhim Ali who lives in the rural area of the border.

“We tried to register as refugees as we had a number before, but UNHCR did not accept us as refugees, saying Rohingyas are not recognized as refugees in Bangladesh. But, other ethnic groups of Burma got refugee status when they arrived in Bangladesh recently,” Hakhim complained.

“If repatriation starts and the conditions are not applied in Burma, Arakan State on the Rohingya community, they will again enter Bangladesh as illegal refugees,” said a student from the UNHCR camp.

“The Bangladesh government needs to talk to the Burmese authorities for maintaining a stable situation in Arakan and allow the rights of citizens,” he added.

“We will go back to Burma, if the situation of Arakan State in Burma is stable. Burma is now like a hell hole and driving out Rohingya people from their motherland is the junta’s political game. The junta authorities have promised Bangladesh to repatriate the Rohingya refugees whenever they enter Bangladesh,” according to Mr. Salim the spokesperson of Arakan Rohingya National Organization (ARNO).