NOT YET READY: Bangladesh authorities say ‘a lot of preparation’ is still needed –
COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh: The repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled violence in Myanmar will not begin as planned, Bangladesh said on Monday, with authorities admitting “a lot of preparation” was still needed.
Bangladesh had been due to start the huge process on January 23, after agreeing a two-year timeframe with Myanmar.
But Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam announced on Monday there was much more work to be done.
“We have not made the preparations required to send back people from tomorrow. A lot of preparation is still needed,” Kalam said.
Also on Monday, attackers killed a Rohingya representative in a Bangladesh refugee camp, the second such death in three days as tensions mount over the repatriation.
Sources said the dead man Yusuf Ali was a camp leader at the Balukhali camp on the border with Myanmar. Mohammad Yusuf, a leader in the neighbouring Thaingkhali camp, was shot dead last Friday.
Yusuf Ali, 60, was stabbed to death, district police chief Iqbal Hossain said. Another police official described him as a Rohingya “majhi” or camp leader.
The Dhaka Tribune described the earlier victim, Mohammad Yusuf, as a pro-repatriation leader.
His wife Jamila Khatun, 35, said some 20 armed and masked men stormed their home and shot her husband in the head.
Since August last year around 688,000 Muslim Rohingya have escaped over the border into Bangladesh in the wake of a military-led campaign in Rakhine state that the UN says amounted to “ethnic cleansing”.
They poured into ill-equipped and overcrowded camps, bringing with them harrowing tales of rape, murder and torture at the hands of Myanmar’s feared army or Buddhist mobs.
After a global outcry, which included loud criticism of Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the two countries agreed earlier this month that the refugees would be returned to Myanmar in a process they said would take around two years.
Rights groups and the UN have said any repatriation must be voluntary. There are reports that many Rohingya settlements have been burned to the ground.
Bangladesh has sought to assure the international community that only those wishing to go back to their homelands in Rakhine would be sent back and that the process would involve the UN’s refugee agency.
But on Monday refugee chief Kalam said transit centres still needed to be built, and work remained to be done on the “rigorous process” of approving lists of those entitled — and willing — to return to Myanmar.
“Without completing this, we cannot send these people back all of a sudden. This work is ongoing,” he said.
He gave no revised start date but said two sites near the border had been identified for possible transit sites.
Bangladesh was “very keen” for the process to begin as soon as possible, he said, but added much work was outstanding on Myanmar’s side including housing reconstruction and safety arrangements.
“Neither side is ready for the real movement to begin now,” Kalam said.
The repatriation deal covers more than 750,000 refugees who have fled since October 2016, but does not include the estimated 200,000 Rohingya who were living in Bangladesh prior to that, driven out by previous rounds of communal violence and military operations.