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Myanmar team in Bangladesh camps for Rohingya repatriation pilot project

Dhaka, Bangladesh

A Myanmar delegation is visiting Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh this week to verify a few hundred potential returnees for a pilot repatriation project, though a Bangladeshi official said it was unclear when they would be going home.

Nearly one million Rohingya Muslim refugees are living in camps in the border district of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, most having fled a military-led crackdown in Myanmar in 2017.

People flee with their belongings as the fire in Cox's Bazar refugee camp continues, Bangladesh March 5, 2023 in this still image obtained by REUTERS from a video

People flee with their belongings as a recent fire in Cox’s Bazar refugee camp continues, Bangladesh, on 5th March, 2023 in this still image obtained by Reuters from a video. PICTURE: Mohammed salim Khan/via Reuters.

Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner in Cox’s Bazar, Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, told Reuters there was a list of 1,140 Rohingya who are to be repatriated through the pilot project, of which 711 have had their cases cleared.

The remaining 429 on the list, including some new-born babies, were still being processed.

“We’re ready” to send them back, Rahman said, but added he did not know when that could begin.

A Myanmar junta spokesman did not answer phone calls from Reuters seeking comment.

China’s ambassador to Bangladesh Yao Wen hoped that the first batch of displaced Rohingya would be repatriated to Myanmar soon while China continued its role as mediator, the official Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha news agency reported.

Hitherto, Myanmar’s military junta, which took power in a coup two years ago, has shown little inclination to take back any Rohingya.

“The international community are playing ping pong with the Rohingya,” Tun Khin, president of Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, told Reuters. “Rohingya refugees face an impossible choice. Stay in terrible conditions in refugee camps where rations are being cut, or return to their home country where genocidal policies continue. 

“This is not a repatriation process, it is a public relations process. Governments want to claim progress when in fact the core issues of the treatment of Rohingya by the Myanmar military are ignored.”

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Crammed with tens of thousands of huts made of bamboo and thin plastic sheets, living conditions in the camps are dangerous.

Two years ago, a massive blaze killed at least 15 refugees and destroyed more than 10,000 homes, and earlier this month another fire left 12,000 people without shelter.

Aside from longstanding problems like lack of employment and educational opportunities, the camps also suffer from surging crime.

Desperate to find somewhere better, many Rohingya have risked their lives making the hazardous sea voyage from Bangladesh to countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia.

According to estimates from the United Nations at least 348 Rohingya are thought to have died at sea last year.

– Additional reporting by POPPY MCPHERSON


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