Myanmar has already begun construction of temporary houses for repatriating the 650,000 Rohingya refugees who fled into neighbouring Bangladesh
An agreement to return Rohingya refugees to Myanmar from Bangladesh within two years has been reached after two days of talks between officials from both countries.
After months of pressure from the international community, Myanmar has promised to repatriate over 650,000 refugees who were pushed from their homes into neighbouring Bangladesh over the past few months following two serious outbreaks of violence, the AFP reported.
The deal will only apply to the people who fled after the recent uptick began last August and not to those who arrived before, which the United Nations (UN) estimates to be around 200,000 people.
In order to be eligible, the refugees will first have to provide proof they belong in Rakhine state, though aid agencies question how many of them will be able to prove their residence, given their hurried flight and the complexity of their status in Myanmar, the AFP reports.
The talks in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw were a follow-up from an earlier pact made in November calling for a start to the repatriation process.
“During this two-day meeting, we agreed on the form that refugees will have to fill to be able to come back to Myanmar,” Mohammad Sufiur Rahman, the Bangladesh ambassador, told the AFP in Myanmar.
“We should be able to start the process in the coming days,” he said, but added Myanmar’s deadline of starting the Rohingya repatriation by next week was “not possible”.
During the meeting back in November, the two countries agreed that 23 January would be the deadline.
Most of the Rohingya refugees approached in Bangladeshi camps by AFP reporters said they would be unwilling to return to a state where their villages had been torched and where they allege they had suffered violent persecution led by the Myanmar army and ethnic Rakhine population.
It is still unclear how many of these refugees will accept the deal and return.
— UN Refugee Agency (@Refugees) January 16, 2018
In a statement issued by the foreign ministry, Bangladesh promised to make every effort to “[consider] the family as a unit” before repatriation and that Myanmar will provide temporary shelters for those returning before rebuilding their permanent houses, according to Reuters.
Local and state-run newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar reported that construction has already begun on these temporary camps, located in Rakhine’s Maungdaw district.
The camps, according to the outlet, are set to accommodate approximately 30,000 residents split between 625 buildings, with the first 100 buildings being completed by the end of the month.
The refugee agency for the UN, UNHCR, has been consulted to ensure that the two countries adhere to international standards throughout the repatriation process, the AP reported.
But UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warns that this initial consult may not be enough to make sure the resettlement of the Rohingya is done in a manner that provides “safety and dignity” to the refugees, the AP reported.
“The worst would be to move these people from camps in Bangladesh to camps in Myanmar, keeping an artificial situation for a long time and not allowing for them to regain their normal lives,” the secretary-general was quoted as saying to the news agency.