Bangladesh’s home minister said he handed over a list of more than 8,000 Rohingya for verification by Naypyidaw under a bilateral deal to repatriate hundreds of thousands of refugees, while meeting with a top Myanmar official in Dhaka on Friday.
The ministerial-level talks took place on the second day of a three-day visit to the Bangladeshi capital by Kyaw Tint Swe, the minister of the Myanmar State Counselor’s Office.
“At the meeting, we handed over a list of 8,032 people belonging to 1,673 Rohingya families,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told reporters afterwards. “After verification, they will give us their decision.”
“The way they have talked to us, the way they have agreed with us and the way the decisions have been adopted at meetings, give us a sense of trust that possibly they will take them back,” he said.
Kyaw Tint Swe did not speak to reporters after the meeting.
Khan said lower-level officials were to meet in Myanmar next week to discuss procedures to send back to Rakhine state another 6,500 Rohingya refugees who are stranded in no-man’s land between Bandarban, a district in southeastern Bangladesh, and the Myanmar border.
At least 688,000 Rohingya refugees crossed into Bangladesh since Aug. 25, 2017, when Myanmar security forces launched a brutal “clearance operation” in retaliation for attacks on police and army posts by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) insurgents. Tens of thousands of other Rohingya eligible for repatriation fled an outbreak of violence in Rakhine in October 2016.
The meeting in Myanmar of district-level officials, which will focus on Rohingya stranded in the no-man’s land, will take place on Feb. 20.
Those Rohingya stuck on the strip of territory between the two countries complained that Myanmar security forces had been throwing stones at them to force them to enter Bangladesh.
“I have heard that the Myanmar border guard has imposed emergency rule along the no-man’s land and they have been using loudspeakers to tell Rohingya to enter Bangladesh,” Imon Chowdhury, the officer in-charge of Naikhangchhari police station, told BenarNews.
“The situation is not good. Thousands of people have been stranded here for days,” he said.
Amid condemnation from the United Nations and international human rights organizations that accused Myanmar security forces of committing atrocities and “ethnic cleansing” against Rohingya civilians, Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a deal on Nov, 23, 2017, to repatriate at least 700,000 Rohingya. The process was to begin within two months of the agreement.
The neighbors have since formed a high-level Joint Working Group to oversee the repatriation. During the first meeting on Jan. 16, the 30-member group finalized the text of the repatriation agreement.
“Still, 100 to 150 people have been coming to Bangladesh every day. We have raised this issue at today’s meeting. They recognized all of our concerns and assured us that they would take necessary measures to take them back,” Khan said.
“We repeatedly raised that they would cross the border [back into Bangladesh] again if these people feel uncertainty, continue to remain in fear of persecution and are debarred from earning a living,” Khan told reporters, referring to Rohingya, a stateless minority group in Myanmar.
On Thursday, ambassadors from more than 10 countries visited Maungdaw township in Rakhine to tour the Myanmar government’s repatriation processing facilities for returning Rohingya refugees, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA), a sister entity of BenarNews.
The tour in Maungdaw occurred two days after the U.N. Security Council held a briefing session on the situation in northern Rakhine. Some member-states called for guarantees for the safe and voluntary return of the Rohingya, as well as unhindered humanitarian access to the region.
Tushar Tohin in Cox’s Bazar contributed to this report.