A top Myanmar official said Monday that a camp to house Rohingya Muslim and Hindu refugees who return from Bangladesh will be ready by its promised deadline next week.
More than 650,000 ethnic Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh since Myanmar's military launched a brutal crackdown in August following attacks on police posts by a militant group. Though Myanmar's army claimed it was a clearance operation against the terrorists, the United Nations, United States and others have said the operations were "ethnic cleansing" to remove the Rohingya from the country.
Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement in November to repatriate Rohingya and set up a working group last month to oversee the repatriation of people who had fled violence in the northern part of Rakhine state in western Myanmar.
Win Myat Aye, the minister of social welfare, relief and resettlement, said Myanmar was hosting a one-day meeting Monday with Bangladesh officials in the capital Naypyitaw to discuss the logistics of how many Rohingya will be allowed into Myanmar and how they will be scrutinized to be placed in the camps.
Officials plan to start the repatriation process from Jan. 23.
"We are planning ahead to be able accept the returnees from next week and we are sure that this will be done on time," Win Myat Aye said.
The U.N. refugee agency said it is not involved in the process but is willing to play a "constructive role" in the process if allowed, specifically in registering the refugees and helping determining whether they are returning to Myanmar voluntarily.
"Our involvement in the process and our full access to areas of return in Myanmar can help to build confidence for all concerned, including the refugees," said Vivian Tan, UNHCR's senior regional communication officer.
In the November agreement, Myanmar's civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, pledged to take measures to halt the outflow of Rohingya to Bangladesh and restore normalcy in the region. The U.N and rights groups have urged the Myanmar government to ensure the safe and voluntary return of the Rohingya refugees.
Many have questioned whether Rohingya would return to Myanmar under the current circumstances.
Japan's foreign minister on a visit to Myanmar last week urged Suu Kyi's government to guarantee the safe and voluntary return of the refugees.
State-run media in Myanmar reported Monday the 124-acre Hla Po Khaung camp will accommodate about 30,000 people in 625 buildings and that at least 100 buildings are to be completed by the end of the month. It would be the first camp built in the repatriation process.