BURMA (Myanmar) reasserted its aim on Monday to return Rohingya refugees to their homes in Rakhine State after over half a million fled to Bangladesh in recent months.
After meeting in the capital Dhaka, Bangladeshi and Burmese officials agreed on Monday to set up a working group to plan the repatriation of the 507,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees who have fled to escape an ongoing army crackdown.
“The talks were held in a friendly atmosphere, and Myanmar has made a proposal to take back the Rohingya refugees,” Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali said after meeting Burmese official Kyaw Tint Swe.
“What Bangladesh has been saying is that we want to settle this issue peacefully and both countries have agreed to that,” he added, as reported by Al Jazeera.
Win Myat Aye, Burma’s Union Minister, Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, also addressed the issue at the UN refugee agency’s (UNHCR) Executive Committee in Geneva.
“Our next immediate priority is to bring back the refugees who have fled to Bangladesh,” Win Myat Aye told the forum.
“The repatriation process can start any time for those who wish to return to Myanmar. The verification of refugees will be based on the agreement between the Myanmar and Bangladesh governments in 1993,” he said.
“Those who have been verified as refugees from this country will be accepted without any problem and with full assurance of their security and their access to human dignity.”
His remarks echo those of State Counsellor and Burma’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. In her much-awaited address to the nation on the Rohingya crisis in September, she called for the repatriation of Rohingya from Bangladesh in line with the 1993 agreement.
But the criteria required to qualify for repatriation under this agreement has been cause for concern, with many Rohingya fearing the conditions are too stringent for them to meet.
The agreement requires them to be registered refugees and to prove citizenship of Burma. Many of those who fled will be unable to supply such documentation as the Rohingya population have been denied citizenship and classified as illegal immigrants in Burma, despite claiming roots in the country that go back centuries.
The United Nations has called the exodus of Rohingya since Aug 25 the world’s fastest-developing refugee emergency and said Buddhist-majority Burma is engaging in ethnic cleansing against its mostly Muslim Rohingya minority.
The Burmese government continues to reject this analysis, blaming rebels of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) for the violence and disruption.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has called for an end to the violence and for safe zones to be set up in Burma to enable refugees to return.
She has also called for a UN fact-finding mission to go to Burma and for the government to implement recommendations on solving problems in Rakhine drawn up by a team led by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.
Additional reporting by Reuters