Representatives from Myanmar and Bangladesh will meet to discuss the rehabilitation of more than 6,500 Rohingya Muslims who are trapped on a strip of unclaimed land between the two countries.
After security posts in Myanmar were attacked by rebels, which in turn led to a military crackdown, almost 700,000 Rohingya escaped the Rakhine state and crossed into Bangladesh. The United Nations has said that the crackdown amounts to ethnic cleansing, with reports of arson attacks, murder and rape.
Relief and Refugee Repatriation Commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam told Reuters, “It is about taking them back to Myanmar. They are on the zero line and actually on the Myanmar side.”
However, Myanmar officials said they were not aware of the meeting, which Kalam said would take place on the “zero line” near Gundum.
While a spokeswoman for UNHCR said the agency was concerned that the Rohingya may be coerced to return to Myanmar without any regards for their safety, Mohammad Abul Kalam said there was no timeline for repatriations and that anyone going back must do so voluntarily and that Myanmar must provide a safe environment for their return.
“We cannot send them forcibly,” he said. Most Burmese consider the Rohingya as unwanted immigrants from Bangladesh, and the army refers to them as “Bengalis”.
The majority of Rohingya refugees are in camps at Cox’s Bazar on the southern tip of Bangladesh, but those who arrived in a buffer zone along the border are now stuck. Bangladesh security forces have been ordered not to allow the refugees to cross the border, and many of them have said they would rather stay there to avoid becoming refugees in Bangladesh.
Myanmar has said it will accept back people holding “national verification” registration cards but has been rejected by Rohingya community leaders who say it treats residents like immigrants.
A leader of the Rohingya group, Dil Mohammed, said the group would never accept the national verification card and the members must be allowed to return to their own homes, paid compensation for losses and damage, and provided with protection from a U.N. mission.
Caroline Gluck, UNHCR Senior Public Information Officer said, “We urge both governments to ensure that any return is based on informed consent and takes place in safety and dignity.”