DHAKA: A team from Myanmar is verifying Rohingya refugees in Bangladeshi camps this week, with authorities expecting that 400 of them will be cleared to return to their homeland in a pilot repatriation project.
Bangladesh is hosting and providing humanitarian support to 1.2 million Rohingya Muslims, most of whom fled violence and persecution in neighboring Myanmar during a military crackdown in 2017.
Most of the refugees live in squalid camps in Cox’s Bazar district, a coastal region in the country’s southeast, which with the influx of Rohingya has become the world’s largest refugee settlement.
Their return to Myanmar has been on the UN agenda for years, but a UN-backed repatriation process has not taken off until now.
The arrival of the delegation of Myanmar immigration officials and the start of the pilot project were mediated by China. The 400-plus people who are being verified are part of more than 1,100 listed as a potential first batch of returnees. The documents of the rest have already been cleared by Myanmar authorities remotely.
“The team of Myanmar officials started verification of more than 400 Rohingyas at Cox’s Bazar refugee camps on Wednesday,” Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mizanur Rahman told Arab News after the first day of verifying potential returnees.
“The members of the Myanmar team started talking with each of the individuals from Wednesday. The Myanmar team will work here for the next five to six days.”
The next stage of the repatriation process will depend on the findings of the team visiting Bangladesh.
“We are still unsure when the actual repatriation will begin,” Rahman said.
Bangladesh has been pressing for the repatriation of Rohingya for years as it has been hosting the refugees despite not being a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.
Supporting the Rohingya costs the Bangladeshi government an estimated $1.2 billion a year.
The sum is huge given the challenges the developing country battered by the coronavirus pandemic is already facing and as international aid for the Rohingya has been dropping since 2020.
Last month, the UN World Food Program decided to cut food rations for the Rohingya as its pleas for donations had not been met.
Hosting 1.2 million Rohingya has lately also become a security concern as cases of murder and reports of criminal organizations using refugees as drug traffickers have also been on the rise since last year.