Myanmar and Bangladesh have agreed to repatriate Rohingya refugees back to the country they fled, in the midst of a U.N warning that genocide was still being committed against them.
Myanmar Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Win Myat Aye told VOA Burmese that the date to begin the repatriation is tentatively set for November 15. He also added that more than 5,000 refugees have been verified for return.
Over 720,000 of Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority fled Rakhine State in August of last year after Rohingya militant attacks inspired a military crackdown from the government. Refugees and journalists have reported widespread killings, rape and the burning of villages.
This is not the first attempt the governments have made to repatriate the Rohingyas, whose presence in Bangladesh has gone from welcomed to controversial as they strain the impoverished country’s resources. A similar attempt almost a year ago failed after hitting insurmountable logistical roadblocks.
“We can’t stress enough that returns cannot be rushed or premature,” U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said of the announcement, “and the decision on whether or not for a refugee to return should be determined by refugees themselves, when they feel the time and circumstances right.”
Last week, the chair of the U.N. fact finding mission in Myanmar warned that thousands of Rohingyas were still fleeing to Bangladesh, and that those who remained “continue to suffer the most severe” limitations and repression.
Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding last month agreeing to meet certain conditions before beginning repatriation, including guaranteed security and a pathway to citizenship. The Rohingya have been technically stateless since a 1982 law stripped them of their citizenship.
It is not clear where the Rohingyas would be relocated to, as most of their villages have been burned. The government has built new housing in Rakhine State since, but human rights groups have expressed concern that these could become guarded prisons.
Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.