A Myanmar government immigration official said Tuesday that two reception centers for processing returning Rohingya Muslim refugees from neighboring Bangladesh are in the final stages of completion before the Southeast Asian country formally begins repatriations in 20 days.
Myint Kyaing, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Labor, Immigration, and Population under Myanmar’s civilian-led government, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the centers in Taung Pyo Let Wae village have been completed, and the other in Nga Khu Ya village will be finished next week.
Win Myat Aye, Myanmar’s minister of social welfare, relief, and resettlement, said previously that the country will begin accepting back Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh on Jan. 22.
Officials who will be tasked with checking the documents of Rohingya refugees, who voluntarily return to northern Rakhine state, are in place, Myint Kyaing said.
“All groups that will check the returning refugees are ready,” he said. “We have sent the forms for the refugees to fill out, but we haven’t received any of the [completed] ones from Bangladesh yet.”
Rohingya refugees must be able to prove prior residency in Myanmar and show that they left after Oct. 9, 2016, to be readmitted to the country.
It remains unclear, however, whether any Rohingya refugees are willing to return to Rakhine state, where many villages have been burned to the ground. Many of them have told United Nations investigators that they suffered rapes, killings, and other atrocities at the hands of the Myanmar army in what U.N. officials and some Western governments have called a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement on Nov. 23 to begin repatriating some of the 655,000 Rohingya who fled across the border from northern Rakhine following a military crackdown targeting them in the aftermath of deadly attacks on police outposts by a militant Muslim group on Aug. 25, 2017.
The same group carried out smaller-scale attacks that triggered the same response by security forces on Oct. 9, 2016, prompting another Rohingya exodus.
Myanmar and Bangladesh — where about 1 million Rohingya refugees live, including 350,000-400,000 who fled previous waves of repression in Myanmar — agreed on Dec. 19 to form a working group to oversee the voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees who are living in sprawling settlement camps in southeastern Bangladesh and to resettle them in northern Rakhine state.
‘Ready to accept them back’
Rights groups and the U.N. have warned against a hasty return of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, saying that they may not be able to produce documents proving prior residency since many left in haste to escape violence by security forces.
They also caution that Rohingya who return will continue to face repression and discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where they are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and are denied citizenship and access to basic services.
Myint Kyaing said he does not anticipate any problems with the current repatriation plan and the processing of returnees, adding that officials have the necessary documents to establish the prior residency of those who wish to return.
“Even if they don’t have any documents to submit to return home, they just need to fill out the forms with the information, such as photos, names, dates of birth, and addresses where they lived,” Myint Kyaing said.
“We can check them with the information and data we have,” he said. “If they meet all the criteria, we will accept them back.”
“We are ready to accept them back,” he said. “We will begin doing so on the day we receive the forms from Bangladesh.”
Myint Kyaing recalled another repatriation process in 1993 when some Rohingya did not possess the proper documents to re-enter Myanmar.
“We received refugees back that time as well,” he said. “Since then, to solve the problem, we have updated the households list in Rakhine state every year with the number of people in each household and a photo of each family member.”
“Each household has to hang its household list with photos of family members on the wall of its house,” he said. “We have recorded these lists in computers as well as made hard copies of them.”
Last week, Win Myat Aye told RFA that officials in northern Rakhine state would repatriate Rohingya Muslims from Bangladesh only during the daytime because of an extended dawn-to-dusk curfew in Maungdaw township.
Returning refugees who are processed at the two reception centers must adhere to the curfew and not go outside after 6 p.m., he said.
Reported by Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.