MYANMAR REFUGEES DEMAND RIGHT TO RESETTLE IN THEIR FORMER HOMES
ROHINGYA holed up in a border “no man’s land” after fleeing Myanmar will only accept repatriation to their home villages, a local leader said last Sunday (18), rejecting any move to transit camps for fear of long-term confinement.
Some 700,000 Rohingya have been driven into neighbouring Bangladesh since last August by a major army crackdown – purportedly intended to “clear” the northern Rakhine state of militants from the Muslim minority.
The UN describes it as a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Muslim Rohingya, an allegation strongly denied by mainly Buddhist Myanmar.
Since August, several thousand of the Rohingya refugees have been living in tents beyond a barbed-wire fence which roughly demarcates the border zone between the two countries, and are reliant on NGO food handouts.
Myanmar authorities are pressing for their return and have increased troop numbers on their side of the fence, but so far no Rohingya have returned.
“We have no intention to enter Bangladesh. We are not Bengali… we are Myanmar original citizens,” Dil Mohamed, 51, told reporters through barbed wire in the “no man’s land”, during a government-steered trip through the Maungdaw border district.
Dil said the villagers – who number around 6,000 – would return to Myanmar only if they are guaranteed safety, compensation for the homes burned down in the army clearance and permission to resettle in their old villages.
“We don’t want to go to the transit camps. We need to go directly to our homes,” he said, referring to sites set up by Myanmar authorities to process returning refugees.
However, Myanmar denies any plan to hold any Rohingya Muslims.
“We don’t have any vision or intention to keep them long,” Ye Htut, the administrator of Maungdaw district, told reporters last Saturday (17) as they were chaperoned around northern Rakhine by government minders.
But the repatriation process appears to be in disarray, with the international community saying continuing insecurity precludes a swift return for the refugees.
Myanmar continues to show off new reception centres and camps for refugees who do eventually return as a sign of its apparent good faith.
Last week, Myanmar said it has only been able to verify 374 Rohingya Muslim refugees for possible repatriation from Bangladesh, as officials blaming Bangladesh for not providing the correct information about the refugees.
Myint Thu, permanent secretary at Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said officials had checked documents handed over by Bangladesh in February relating to 8,032 refugees.
“Out of 8,032, we verified 374. These 374 will be the first batch of the repatriation,” Myint Thu said at a news conference in the capital, Naypyitaw. “They can come back when it’s convenient for them.”
It was unclear whether the 374 people had agreed to return to Myanmar. (Agencies)