Dhaka – The second attempt in less than a year to begin the much-talked about Rohingya return has apparently been failed after refugees turned down an offer to join the voluntary repatriation programme on Thursday, according to officials.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees, which assisted Bangladeshi officials to survey whether the refugees would go back voluntarily, said none of the Rohingya interviewed in the last couple of days showed interest to go back to Myanmar at this moment.
“So far, none of those interviewed have indicated a willingness to repatriate at this time,” United Nations High Commission for Refugees said in a press statement.
The statement was issued following the officials returned after day-long waiting from a makeshift center established at a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, from where they wanted to transport the potential returnees to Ghumdhum transit point as Myanmar officials waited at the other side of the border.
The repatriation attempt was scheduled to begin Thursday after Myanmar cleared 3,450 people to return from a list of more than 22,000 Rohingya earlier submitted by Bangladesh.
More than 740,000 Rohingya Muslims crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar launched a military crackdown in northern Rakhine state in August 2017. Since then the refugees have been living in squalid camps and the government of the South Asian countries have been trying to begin voluntary returning of the refugees under a stalled 2017 repatriation agreement.
Human rights groups and the United States have accused Myanmar of attempted genocide.
An official at Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission said they waited at the Shalbagan refugee camp until 4pm.
But no Rohingya Muslims appeared at the center to go back to Myanmar, the official, Khalid Hossain said adding that five buses, three vans and a few minibuses were kept ready to transport the returnees to the border.
Rohingya representatives cited a lack of safety in Myanmar to go back. They said that they had four major demands to fulfill before the repatriation process is begun. The Myanmar authorities are seemed to have turned a blind eye to the Rohingya demands that included assurance of their citizenship, basic human rights, access to land from where they were evicted and trial of those committed genocide on Rohingya minority group.
They also said the list of returnees was prepared secretly without consulting any Rohingya.
Earlier in November last year, a similar attempt failed after refugees cited a lack of security in Myanmar and they arranged protest in Bangladeshi camp against the move.
The head of the Bangladesh Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission, Abul Kalam, said Bangladesh will continue to pursue the repatriation efforts. He said it was not a failure on the part of Bangladesh, rather Myanmar should act to resolve its problem.
“We are hosting them on humanitarian ground and Bangladesh will never force them out,” he told an open-air news conference at the camp flanked by two Chinese diplomats who came to Bangladesh to witness the repatriation process.
A spokesman for the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights asked the Myanmar authorities to open a dialogue with Rohingya to make the repatriation process a success.
“We want everything to be done after discussion,” he told reporters in Teknaf adding that the discussion will be held in presence of the representatives from the ASEAN, Bangladeshi government and the UNHCR.