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Rohingya repatriation looms amid international concerns

DHAKA: Rohingya refugees continue to flee persecution in Myanmar but Bangladesh is preparing to send them back despite deep concern among the international community, according to a Rohingya advocacy group.
“The repatriation deal is a nightmare for all Rohingya genocide survivors who fled to Bangladesh. We are deeply concerned about it,” Hla Kyaw, chairman of the European Rohingya Council, told Anadolu Agency.
He said Rohingya refugees currently taking shelter in Bangladesh “should never be returned to the killing fields before their safety, security and citizenship are guaranteed.”
The bilateral deal, signed on Nov. 23 last year, stipulates some nearly impossible conditions for the verifying the residency of the people the agreement calls “displaced persons from Myanmar” instead of their widely known ethnic identity of Rohingya.
Though Tuesday is the deadline to start the repatriation, the process seems likely to take more time as many issues are yet to be finalized.
Right groups including Human Rights Watch, the UN Refugee Agency and Amnesty International have voiced their concern over the deal, saying it would send Rohingya back to the brutality in Myanmar.
Amnesty called the plan “alarmingly premature” while HRW called on both governments to redraft the agreement involving the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Earlier this month, Bangladesh and Myanmar finalized an agreement on the physical arrangements for the repatriation of the Rohingya and agreed to send 100,000 Rohingya to Myanmar in the first phase.
The process will take some time with Myanmar agreeing to accept 1,500 Rohingya per week with the goal of taking back more than 700,000 within two years.
The Rohingya will first be placed in a “temporary camp” under Myanmar’s control and then settled in a locality.
“They should be returned to their original homes. Their homes must be rebuilt,” Kyaw said, noting that most of the Rohingya villages had been burnt down.
C.R. Abrar, coordinator of the Dhaka-based Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RAMMRU), echoed Kyaw’s concern while noting that Bangladesh’s government has been working to ensure some aspects of the deal.
“A discussion should be held with Rohingya. Their concerns should be taken into account. But as you know, Bangladesh’s government has also voiced the same concerns and called on the Myanmar government to ensure their safety and other issues,” he said.
Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister A. H. Mahmood Ali said Sunday that Dhaka “has put its best efforts to ensure that the agreements facilitate a safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return.”
“In order to ensure that the return is voluntary, Bangladesh has incorporated provisions for involvement of the UNHCR and other relevant international organizations in the entire return process,” he added during a briefing to foreign envoys in Dhaka, according to a press release from the ministry.

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