Officials play down Rohingya repatriation delay

Bill Richardson

They lauded Bangladesh for sheltering more than 688,000 refugees who have fled military crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine state since August 25.

The government on Wednesday unveiled to the media, including NHK, a pre-fab immigration facility near its border with Bangladesh.

Bangladesh officials said yesterday a huge fire burned and gunshots were heard in a village across the border in Myanmar's conflict-scarred Rakhine state, where authorities want to return Rohingya refugees.

First, Bangladesh would need to compile a list of all the names of the refugees living in camps and then hand that over to Myanmar for examination and verification.

Myanmar says it's ready for a gradual repatriation.

"To ensure the right of refugees to return voluntarily, and in safety and in dignity, we call again on Myanmar to allow the necessary unhindered humanitarian access in Rakhine State and create conditions for a genuine and lasting solution", Adrian Edwards, a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told the regular news briefing in Geneva on Tueday. It is believed the homes ablaze belonged to Rohingya, the official said.

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The two countries have agreed to a two-year repatriation process set to begin Tuesday.

The UN refugee agency and other groups have urged a rethink of the plan to send Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar amid fears of forced repatriations and the inability of aid agencies to ensure the safety of hundreds of thousands who fled bloodshed at home. In the statement he also notes being taken aback by the "vigor with which the media, the United Nations, human rights groups, and in general the global community were disparaged" in meeting with Suu Kyi and the Advisory Board.

The repatriation deal covers a total of 750,000 refugees who have fled since October 2016, but does not include the estimated 200,000 Rohingya who were living in Bangladesh prior to that, driven out by previous rounds of communal violence and military operations.

"We are not doing anything hurriedly".

Rohingya have been denied citizenship for decades in a discriminatory system that heavily restricts their rights and movement within Myanmar.

A view of Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh in December 2017. He said Myanmar was "prepared to receive 300 people a day" to begin with. Myanmar's social welfare, relief and resettlement minister, Win Myat Aye, said the repatriation would take place over the next two years, "or maybe less". According to the United Nations refugee agency and other rights groups, Rohingya are still fleeing across the border into Bangladesh, although the numbers are smaller than in previous months. It was not possible to independently verify the accounts as Myanmar has heavily restricted access to the area.

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