PALONG KHALI, Bangladesh (Reuters) -
Bangladesh has delayed the repatriation of Rohingya Muslim refugees to Myanmar, set to start on Tuesday, because the process of compiling and verifying the list of people to be sent back is incomplete, a senior Bangladesh official said. The decision comes as tensions have risen in camps holding hundreds of thousands of refugees, some of whom are opposing their transfer back to Myanmar because of what they say is a lack of guarantees of their security.
Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed earlier this month to complete the voluntary repatriation of the refugees within two years, starting on Tuesday. Myanmar says it has set up two reception centres and a temporary camp near the border to receive the first arrivals.
But Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and rehabilitation commissioner, said on Monday the return would have to be delayed.
“There are many things remaining,” he told Reuters by phone. “The list of people to be sent back is yet to be prepared, their verification and setting up of transit camps is remaining.”
A Bangladesh Border Guard official said it could be months before the transfers begin.
The International Organisation for Migration says the number of Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh since late August now stands at 688,000. The exodus began when the Myanmar military launched a crackdown following insurgent raids on security forces on Aug. 25.
The head of the UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, said more time was needed to prepare the return of the Rohingya refugees to Rakhine, and urged the two governments to involve it in their efforts to resolve the refugee crisis.
“In order for the repatriation to be right, sustainable, actually viable, you need to really to address a number of issues that for the time being we have heard nothing about, including the citizenship issue, the rights of the Rohingya in Rakhine state, meaning freedom of movement, access to services, to livelihoods,” Filippo Grandi told Reuters.
The UNHCR, which is helping to administer the refugee camps, is not involved in the repatriation process.
Grandi said it was especially important to set up a monitoring mechanism in northern Rakhine for the returning people.
The Rohingya have long been denied citizenship by Myanmar, where many in the Buddhist majority regard them as interlopers from Bangladesh.