Myanmar and Bangladesh will start a fresh attempt next week to repatriate thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, officials said on Thursday, nearly a year after a major attempt failed.
More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Rakhine for neighbouring Bangladesh after a military-led crackdown in August 2017 the United Nations has said was perpetrated with “genocidal intent”, but many refugees refuse to go back, fearing more violence.
A total of 3,540 refugees have been cleared for return by Myanmar from a list of more than 22,000 names recently sent by Bangladesh, officials from both countries told Reuters.
The first group of refugees would return to Myanmar next week, providing any agree to go back.
“We have agreed to the repatriation of 3,540 people on August 22,” Myint Thu, a spokesman for Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Reuters by phone.
Previous attempts at persuading Rohingya to return to Rakhine have failed due to opposition from refugees. An effort in November sowed fear and confusion in the camps, and finally failed after refugee protests.
A senior Bangladeshi official told Reuters the new effort was a “small-scale” repatriation plan, adding that nobody will be forced to return.
“Bangladesh wants nothing but a safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable repatriation,” said the official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to media.
Mohammed Eleyas, a Rohingya activist with the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, said refugees had not been consulted about the process.
Myanmar should agree to the key demands of the community before repatriation begins, he said in a message.