March 1, 2024, 6:06 pm

Diplomatic correspondent

2023-10-31 18:31:01 BdST

Myanmar team in Bangladesh for Rohingya repatriation talks

Myanmar officials arrived in Bangladesh on Tuesday to meet with Rohingya refugees as part of a long-stalled repatriation scheme now backed by China, authorities said.

Bangladesh is home to around one million Rohingya refugees, most of whom fled a violent 2017 crackdown by the Myanmar military that is now subject to a UN genocide probe.

The stateless and persecuted minority live in overcrowded, dangerous and under-resourced relief camps, and several previous attempts to broker their return home have failed due to reluctance from Myanmar and the refugees themselves.

The team of Myanmar officials arrived at Teknaf, a river port just across from their shared border with Bangladesh, to meet with several dozen Rohingya families.

"They will discuss repatriation with the Rohingya today and verify their identity," Shamsud Douza, the country's deputy refugee commissioner, said.

"The delegates will leave for Myanmar today but will return tomorrow."

Bangladesh officials said Myanmar plans to take back around 3,000 refugees by December as part of a pilot repatriation scheme brokered in a three-way meeting between the two countries and China in April.

"They are ready to accept them. But the Rohingya are not ready to go. That's the challenge," one Bangladeshi government official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Rohingya community leaders have long said they would only return if they were granted citizenship and resettled in their own land.

'We have questions'

"We are interested to go back to our country if Myanmar takes us back to our place of origin, gives us dignity, and fulfils all our rights," Khin Maung, a prominent Rohingya leader, told AFP.

"But if our rights are not given, we have questions," he said.

The Rohingya are widely viewed in Myanmar as interlopers from Bangladesh, despite roots in the Southeast Asian country stretching back centuries, and are stateless after Myanmar stopped recognising their citizenship in 2015.

Violence is a fact of life in the camps, with rival armed groups battling for control of territory.

Malnutrition is also widespread, with the UN food agency saying a funding shortfall this year had forced it to cut rations by a third.

The desperate situation has prompted thousands of Rohingya to embark upon dangerous and often deadly sea trips to Southeast Asian countries to escape the camps.

A repatriation plan agreed in 2017 failed to make significant headway in the years since, partly over concerns the Rohingya would not be safe if they returned.

Progress ground to a complete halt during the Covid pandemic and after the military overthrow of Myanmar's civilian government in 2021.

Bangladesh has repeatedly said any repatriation would be voluntary, but several Rohingya earmarked for the return programme told AFP they had been threatened into joining.

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