A high-level Myanmar government delegation will visit refugee camps in Bangladesh amid tight security this coming weekend to try and persuade Rohingya Muslims and Christians to return home, officials said Thursday.
Myint Thu, Myanmar’s foreign affairs permanent secretary, will meet 250 Christian refugees for the first time since 2017, said Mohammad Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner.
The 10-member Myanmar delegation will also hold repatriation talks with Rohingya Muslims in Cox’s Bazar district on Saturday before meeting the Christian refugees the next day, Kalam said.
“They are likely to tell the Rohingya the measures they took in [Myanmar's] Rakhine [state] for their return without delay,” he told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
A brutal crackdown launched by Myanmar’s military in August 2017 spurred more than 740,000 Rohingya to flee into Bangladesh from Rakhine state.
The visit comes as Bangladeshi officials issued criticisms against U.N. envoy Christine Schraner Burgener accusing her of telling a diplomatic briefing in Yangon that Bangladesh should be blamed for the failure to start the Rohingya repatriation.
Burgener, who arrived in Bangladesh on Tuesday, has visited the country five times so far, but gone to Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar only once, according to the Bangladesh daily Prothom Alo.
It quoted Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque as questioning Burgener during their meeting in Dhaka about why she hadn’t visited the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar during her other trips to Bangladesh.
“Unless you speak to the Rohingyas, you will not know whether they want to return or not. You will not know what they really want,” the paper quoted Haque as telling the U.N. envoy.
This will be the second Myanmar government team to meet the Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar district, which borders Rakhine.
On April 11, 2018, a delegation led by Win Myat Aye, Myanmar’s social welfare minister, met refugees at camps in the district.
Hundreds of Rohingya refugees demonstrated against Aye’s visit, which was marred by clashes between demonstrators and police who dispersed the protesters by charging them with batons.
Aye’s delegation did not meet the Hindus or Christian refugees.
In January last year, Myanmar agreed to take back the Hindu Rohingya even without verification of their identities. But Dhaka turned down their proposal.
Leaders of Muslim Rohingya refugees also rejected the Myanmar minister’s plea for them to return.
While Myanmar authorities have promised to resettle the refugees, analysis of satellite imagery showed “no sign of reconstruction” in the overwhelming majority of the Rohingya’s former settlements while, in some areas, destruction of residential buildings has continued, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), a think-tank, said in a report released Tuesday.
Police officials in Cox’s Bazar told BenarNews, without providing details, that they would increase their security for the Myanmar delegation.
“The Myanmar delegation will get maximum security. We have adopted huge preparations so that neither the Rohingya nor any others can create trouble during the visit,” Md Iqbal Hossain, additional superintendent of police in Cox’s Bazar, told BenarNews.
“We will deal with an iron hand any attempts to create trouble,” he said.
Md Ilias Hossain, a refugee living at the Lambarshia camp, told BenarNews that they would reject any attempts to bring them back to Myanmar without guarantees for their safety.
“Bangladesh is not my country. Myanmar is my country. We have our house and land there. We all want to return,” he said. “But there is no minimum safety in Arakan (Rakhine). We will queue to go back if Myanmar stops torture and killings, and restores our citizenship.”
Mohammad Ahad, a Rohingya leader at the Kutupalong refugee camp, described the Myanmar visit as a “showy tour.”
“We do not trust Myanmar. Meeting us at the camp is part of their strategies,” Ahad told BenarNews.
“They want to demonstrate to the international community that they want to take us, but we the Rohingya are not going there. The objective of the ploy is not to receive us,” he said.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.