The Bangladesh office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the government have started to ask 3,399 persons of 1,038 Rohingya families to express their voluntariness for returning to Rakhine of Myanmar.
Ten teams comprising representatives of the UNHCR and the Bangladesh government ‘have started counselling’ the selected 3,399 persons in respective camps ‘asking them to express their voluntariness’ for returning to Myanmar, the government and the UNHCR officials in Cox’s Bazar said on Monday.
The prospective returnees, who were cleared by the Myanmar government for repatriation, were asked to visit an office adjacent to camp 26 and fill out forms expressing their willingness or refusal to return to Myanmar, they said.
Representatives of the UNHCR and the governments were also asked to inform the targeted returnees about the mechanism of repatriation and preparations taken by the Myanmar side so far for receiving them inside Rakhine, according an official at the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission of Bangladesh.
The UNHCR ‘is mandated for assessing voluntariness of the returnees’ according to a memorandum of understanding signed between the Bangladesh government and the UNHCR, diplomatic sources said, adding that the foreign ministry has already handed over a list of prospective returnees for assessing their willingness for voluntary return to Myanmar.
Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission assessed the preparations for return in a meeting on Sunday with refugee relief and repatriation commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam in the chair.
‘Repatriation must be voluntary,’ Kalam told New Age and added that ‘the Bangladesh government is not intent on mounting pressure on the Rohingya people to return home.’
When asked about the possibility of starting repatriation on August 22, cabinet secretary Mohammad Shafiul Alam told reporters in Dhaka, ‘It cannot be confirmed at this moment.’
The government has already beefed up security in and outside the Rohingya camps with participation of the Bangladesh Army, Police, Border Guard Bangladesh, Rapid Action Battalion, Coast Guard and Armed Police Battalion.
Kalam asked the camp in-charges to stay inside the camps.
Bangladesh might prefer land routes for repatriation through Ghumdhum land station with Myanmar due to inclement weather, an official said adding that the government has already informed the matter to the Chinese authorities that were mediating between Bangladesh and Myanmar for launching the repatriation of the Rohingya people.
The Bangladesh government would conduct a medical check-up of each prospective returnee in two transit camps prepared for repatriation before transferring them to Myanmar authorities.
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 nearly a month before the Myanmar authorities arrange relief for them, UN and government officials added.
The first attempt of repatriation had failed on 15 November 2018 as none of the selected Rohingya people showed their willingness for return.
More than 7,00,000 Rohingyas, mostly women, children and aged people, entered Bangladesh after fleeing unbridled murder, arson and rape during ‘security operations’ by Myanmar military in Rakhine, what the United Nations denounced as ethnic cleansing and genocide, beginning from August 25, 2017.
The last incident of Rohingya influx took the number of undocumented Myanmar nationals and registered refugees in Bangladesh to about 11,16,000, according to estimates by UN agencies and Bangladesh foreign ministry.