UNCERTAIN FUTURE: Workers level hillsides in order to expand the Kutupalong camp; and (below) Myanmar’s social welfare, relief and resettlement minister Win Myat Aye speaks with Rohingya refugees at the Kutupalong camps in Cox’s Bazar


BUNGLING, distortion and diplomatic doublespeak have tarnished the deal to repatriate Rohingya from Bangladesh to Myanmar, with refugees refusing to re­turn to a homeland that remains peril­ously insecure.

“We will have to stay here for a long pe­riod, maybe generations,” Ali, a Rohingya refugee and father-of-six, said from the Ku­tupalong mega-camp on Bangladesh’s side of the border.

In November, Myanmar agreed to take back around 750,000 Rohingya from Bang­ladesh – which hosts around one million of the Muslim minority driven out by waves of state violence stretching back to 1978.

Yet so far, Myanmar has signed off just 675 names from a Bangladeshi list of 8,000 refugees, citing discrepancies in the verifi­cation forms proving their residency in Ra­khine state.

Months have elapsed, but no one has crossed back under the deal.

A family of five was “repatriated” over the weekend from a wedge of no-man’s land between the neighbours.

Their return was criticised as a PR stunt by rights groups and labelled “not meaning­ful” by Bangladesh’s home minister.

“Whatever we say, they (Myanmar) agree,” Asaduzzaman Khan said. “But they have not been able to create grounds for trust that they will take back these people.”

Myanmar does not want its Rohingya, denying them citizenship and classifying the minority as “Bengalis” who have crossed over the border illegally. It forced around 750,000 out in two major army operations in October 2016 and August 2017.

The UN describes the August crackdown, ostensibly a kickback against Rohingya mil­itant attacks, as “ethnic cleansing”.

Under pressure, Myanmar agreed to take back those who can prove prior residence.

Bangladesh wants swift, large-scale re­turns to ease pressure on the teeming camps in its Cox’s Bazar district – and salve domestic disquiet as the country finds itself saddled with a huge refugee crisis.

Yet the refugees listed by Dhaka do not even know they have been volunteered to return to a country where they allege wide­spread atrocities.

“We did not try to ascertain approval from them,” a senior Bangladesh official said on condition of anonymity.

Dhaka has also muddied its side of the bargain. Under the repatriation agreement, the head of each Rohingya family must list the address of his or her father, mother and spouse in Myanmar.

But those details were inexplicably omit­ted from the forms submitted to Myanmar, the official said. With no new names planned for scrutiny, the process is at a standstill.

For the Rohingya, return is the ultimate aim but only on condition of guaranteed safety and – crucially – citizenship, a red line to Myanmar authorities who stripped them of that status in 1982. (AFP)