Muslim Rohingyas housed in sprawling refugee camps in Bangladesh are refusing to return to Myanmar, United Nations and local officials have said. In a joint statement released today, 61 local, national and worldwide NGOs working in the two countries called for human rights for all to be recognized in Rakhine State and for Rohingya refugees to have a role in decision-making about their own lives, including conditions for their return to Myanmar.
"The UN refugee agency has started interviewing the Rohingya on the list", Mohammad Abul Kalam, the country's refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, said by telephone.
The two repatriation camps will accept 300 people a day - 150 at each camp, he said. Over 1.1 million Rohingyas, who were persecuted by the Myanmar Army, are now staying in different camps at Cox's Bazar.
The representatives said they were making full preparation for the repatriation of the displaced Rohingyas but it would only take place on a voluntary basis.
"Bangladesh has been generous with the Rohingya - though conditions in the camps have been hard - but no refugee should feel compelled to return to a place that isn't safe".
Azad added that in the first phase 3,450 members of the ethnic minority who have been verified by Myanmar will be repatriated. Numerous illnesses MSF treats at its clinics in Cox's Bazar are a result of the poor living conditions that the Rohingya endure, with poor access to clean latrines or water.
The returnees would also get food and other essential stuff before repatriation so that they can run on their own in transit camps in Rakhine for almost a month before the Myanmar authorities arrange relief for them, United Nations and government officials added. This is driving many in the hands of drug gangs, he said.
"Conditions should be put in place for a safe and dignified return to Myanmar, and the Rohingya refugees must be listened to in this process".
"Going back to their own homeland does not mean that we are asking them to forget about the issues of justice and accountability. At the same time, there are those who stress that the humanitarian crisis guarantees generous profits to those who have an interest in them remaining in Bangladesh". There also needs to be greater transparency within Myanmar to ensure that the government is truly prepared to welcome refugees and that the rights of returning Rohingya are not violated. They must be able to make a free and informed choice about whether to return to Myanmar. "They have confidence in us". Firstly, we need global protection, secondly we need our citizenship back.
Syed Ullah, secretary of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, a Rohingya rights organization at Cox's Bazar told Arab News: "Before any repatriation, the safety of our lives should be ensured". However, the sources said that the Rohingyas who were interviewed were unwilling to return until their certain demands, especially about their citizenship rights, were fulfilled.
"We have tomorrow, I am hopeful that many other families will face the interviews", he said.
"It is definitely good news that the repatriation issue has return to the forefront of discussion again".