Myanmar authorities will accept up to 300 people a day in two camps for displaced people. The first attempt at voluntary refugee repatriation failed in November 2018. For the Bishop of Pyay, some “stress that the humanitarian crisis guarantees generous profits”. Repatriation raises fears of possible ethnic tensions.
Naypyidaw (AsiaNews) – After a first unsuccessful attempt, Myanmar and Bangladesh will try to re-start the process of voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees. Beginning next Thursday, Myanmar will accept a first group of 3,454 displaced people.
Since August 2017, more than 730,000 Rohingya have found refuge in Bangladesh following the military campaigns by the Myanmar Armed Forces (Tatmadaw) in Rakhine State, western Myanmar.
At least one million people have become stranded in various refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, a district on the border between the two countries, after fleeing different waves of violence.
In November 2017, Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed on the gradual “safe, dignified, voluntary and sustainable” repatriation of some displaced people, but red tape and Rohingya fears have so far held back the process.
The latter was set to begin on 15 November 2018 with the transfer of 150 refugees – out of 2,260. However, except for a few Rohingyas and a small group of Hindu refugees, no one wanted to go back, at least until Myanmar guarantees security and citizenship rights.
U Zaw Htay, director general of Myanmar’s President’s Office, announced four days ago that Myanmar and Bangladesh are ready to make a second attempt.
Of the 22,432 names of refugees that Bangladesh submitted to the Myanmar government, 3,454 have been verified by Myanmar and will be accepted first, U Zaw Htay said.
Repatriation camps have been set up at Ngagu Ya and Taung Pyo Letwei, ready to accept 150 to 300 people a day each. A temporary camp will be established at Hla Phoe Khaung before the returnees are sent back to their villages.
“There is concern that repatriation may trigger ethnic tensions in Rakhine,” said Mgr Alexander Pyone Cho (picture 2), speaking to AsiaNews.
“Disagreements between (ethnic Rakhine) Buddhists and Muslims are a historical reality that can still occur in the future”, noted the Bishop who heads the Diocese of Pyay, which includes the conflict-torn State of Rakhine.
“Our government has been trying for some time to facilitate the return of Bengalis,[*]” he added. “Until now, however, no one has crossed the border. It is difficult to know the reasons for this.”
According to the prelate, “Most think that refugees fear for their security if they return to Myanmar. At the same time, there are those who stress that the humanitarian crisis guarantees generous profits to those who have an interest in them remaining in Bangladesh.”
Catholics are a small minority in Rakhine. In the entire Diocese of Pyay, there are only 8,000 out of a population of 2 million people.
“In this context, the diocesan Caritas has been trying to do its best. As the Catholic Church we are not involved in any way in the repatriation process.”
“At present, our volunteers are looking at some villages to start development programmes, Muslim settlements in Rakhine and Chin. All three communities living in the State will be involved because we do not want to be accused of showing preference for one in particular.”
[*] In Myanmar, the Rohingya are considered Bengalis.