Saleh Noman and Sarwar Azam Manik
Ten months following its formation, the Bangladesh-Myanmar Joint Working Group (JWG) visited the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar for the first time on Wednesday.
After the visit, head of the Myanmar team of the JWG said, preparations for the return of refugees in mid-November are going on. In discussions with the delegation, the Rohingyas demanded a return to their homes in Rakhine. At around 11:30 pm Wednesday, the JWG team reached the Kutupalong refugee camps in Ukhia of Cox’s Bazar. Permanent Secretary to the Myanmar foreign ministry, Myint Thu, led the Myanmar side while Bangladesh Foreign Secretary, Shahidul Haque, led the host side.
The JWG delegation visited various blocks of Rohingya camps, observed the dire living conditions of the Rohingyas, and participated in group discussions with them. Then, the Myanmar team leader briefed reporters on the camps in D-5 block.
Myint Thu said, the repatriation process of Rohingya refugees has been continuing. Myint Thu said in press briefing, “We are ready to receive the first batch of refugees in mid-November. We have received a list of 8032 people from Bangladesh. In this, we have confirmed the identities of five thousand; the verification process of the others is ongoing.”
“The initially identified 5000 Rohingyas, and later 2000 Rohingyas will be returned to Myanmar. At the same time, we have assured considering the rights of citizenship and other demands of the Rohingyas, he added.
After completing the village-wise verification of who came from which village, Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal handed over the list of the 8,032 Myanmar citizens, from 1,673 families, to Myanmar officials in Dhaka on 16 February this year.
Rohingya Abdur Rahim, who was in talks with the JWG, told reporters, “We are happy with the initiative of repatriation, and we want to return to the country immediately. We are telling them that our homes and land should be returned to us.” Another Rohingya leader Sirajul Islam who was also in talks with the JWG said, “We have heard that after returning to Rakhine, we will be kept in transit camps. If so, our destiny will not change.”
“Here we are living in camps, but why we should live in camps in our country, the Rohingya leader of Camp II posed the question, “After the repatriation to our country, we have to be given the opportunity to live in our houses.”
Regarding the demands of the Rohingyas, Mint Thu told reporters, “We have come here to listen to the Rohingyas, and during the talks, the Rohingyas placed some conditions, which on going back to Myanmar, we will report to the higher officials of the government.”
Only the Myanmar delegation spoke at the press briefing, and answered questions of the journalists.
During the camp tour, the JWG members also spoke to the Hindu refugees from Myanmar.
When contacted, Mohammad Abul Kalam, Refugees, Refugee and Rehabilitation Commissioner (RRRC) in Cox’s Bazar said, “We have also talked about the repatriation of the of 22,242 Rohingyas in the second list, given to Myanmar delegation two days ago, at a joint working group meeting in Dhaka.
The Myanmar delegation arrived in Dhaka two days ago to attend the third meeting of the JWG formed for repatriation. Following a third meeting in Dhaka Wednesday morning, a 16-member delegation of Myanmar came to visit the Kutupalong Rohingya Camp in Ujhayya via Cox’s Bazar Airport. Later, the delegation returned to Dhaka in the afternoon.
Nearly 700,000 Rohingyas have crossed over into Bangladesh since a military offensive began in response to an insurgent attack on August 25 last year. More than 300,000 others, who crossed over from Myanmar in the previous years, are also in Bangladesh. With horrific accounts of rape, extrajudicial killing and arson, Rohingyas took shelter at makeshift camps in Ukhia and Teknaf in Cox’s Bazar, creating a never-seen-before humanitarian crisis.
Bangladesh and Myanmar formed a joint working group (JWG) on 18 December 2017, to start repatriation of Rohingya refugees by January 23, 2018. Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an initial deal in November 2017, for the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas.