Officials from Bangladesh and Myanmar will meet next week to discuss the Rohingya refugee crisis, as U.N. officials warned that overcrowding and unhygienic conditions in camps housing those who had fled violence in their homeland could create a breeding ground for “possible epidemics.”
A three-member team from Myanmar’s central government will arrive in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on Oct. 1 for a three-day visit, according to a Bangladesh foreign ministry document seen by BenarNews.
The visit will be the first by a Myanmar delegation since the latest mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims began on Aug. 25, when militants attacked police posts in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state, triggering a military campaign of violence that the U.N. has called “ethnic cleansing.”
Some 480,000 minority Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh since then, adding to the 300,000 who had previously crossed into the neighboring country.
The foreign ministry document said a minister, Kyaw Tint Swe, from the office of Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi would lead the delegation to the talks, details of which were not immediately available.
Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque told Agence France-Presse that the officials would be working on the Rohingya issue, but he did not give details.
Aung San Suu Kyi had said last week that Myanmar was ready to start a verification process and “refugees from this country will be accepted without any problem.” But no full explanation has been given on how the process would be undertaken.
“A verification process was set up as early as 1993 and based on the principles to which both countries agreed at this time, we can continue with the verification of those refugees who wish to return to Myanmar,” she said.
“We will abide by the criteria that was agreed on at that time,” she said.
“Those who have been verified as refugees from this country will be accepted without any problems and with full assurance of their security and their access to humanitarian aid,” Aung San Suu Kyi had said.
She said that her national security advisor had assured Bangladesh that her government was ready to start the verification process at any time.
Myanmar’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and the National Security Advisor visited Bangladesh in January and July, and they had been hoping for a visit from the Home Minister of Bangladesh but it had to be postponed.
Myanmar: Plans to build repatriation camps
Win Myat Aye, Myanmar’s minister for social welfare, relief, and resettlement, told reporters in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw on Wednesday that the government would build two repatriation camps for the Rohingya refugees, according to Radio Free Asia, a sister entity of BenarNews.
He said the government would take back the refugees, according to the 1993 pact, at a cost of more than 20 billion kyats (U.S. $14.5 million).
“We will give priority to working on the nationality verification process, and have prepared to do so,” Win Myat Aye said, referring to the country’s long-stalled citizenship verification process for stateless Rohingya Muslims, who are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, last week proposed creating U.N.-supervised safe zones inside Myanmar to protect Rohingya Muslims fleeing a military crackdown in that state.
The head of the United Nations refugee agency, Filippo Grandi, indicated Wednesday that the Rohingya refugees would likely not be leaving Bangladesh soon. He called for longer-term plans to manage the influx.
He called the current camp setup “a recipe for disaster,” with overcrowding and unhygienic conditions creating a breeding ground for “possible epidemics.”
UN officials permitted to visit Rakhine
Meanwhile, representatives of U.N. agencies will be permitted to visit Rakhine state in Myanmar on Thursday for the first time since the latest exodus began.
“There will be a trip organized by the government, probably tomorrow, to Rakhine,” Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General, was quoted by AFP as saying.
The U.N. Security Council will also meet on Thursday on the crisis. On Sept. 13, the council demanded “immediate steps” to end the Myanmar violence and expressed concern about “excessive force” being used by the military.
Rakhine state government secretary Tin Maung Swe said foreign diplomats would also be allowed a day trip to the volatile Maungdaw township, the focal point of recent strife, RFA reported.
“We will take them to as many places as we can visit and [to see] as much as the weather allows,” he said.
The decisions to allow diplomats into the region came amid calls by London-based Amnesty International and New York-based Human Rights Watch for the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions and an arms embargo on the Myanmar military because of what they called crimes against humanity committed against the Rohingya.