Chittagong, Bangladesh: Burma has approved in principle to restart a long-delayed voluntary repatriation program for Rohingya Muslim refugees from Burma, living in the country, said Bangladesh`s foreign Secretary.
Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Mohammad Shahidul Haque said that Burma and Bangladesh reached an agreement to resume the program during annual foreign office consultations in Nay Pyi Taw from June 12-17.
When asked a Rohingya refugee teacher, “We are willing to go back to Arakan State, Burma, if we get our appropriate rights like other ethnic groups.”
The refugee teacher also said, “We have been living in Bangladesh refugee camp since 1991-92, but we don’t see our future. We live in a big cage like jail, so we want durable solution urgently.”
“We have encouraged the Burma government to restart the process. They have agreed and are looking for an appropriate time to restart the process,” Mr Haque told The Myanmar Times on June 15.
“We would like to see the Burma’s nationals who are in Bangladesh return under safe conditions, voluntarily, back to their home. They can start a healthy and productive life in their own country,” Mr Haque said.
“A time frame for the implementation of the process has not yet been agreed upon and was contingent on many factors.”
Dhaka has been pushing for a resumption of the program since Burma refused to extend the original agreement past 2005.
But, Burma refuses to recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic group, calling them instead Bengalis and describing them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh who arrived during the British occupation.
However, Bangladesh does not recognize the term either – and objected to its use during the interview – insisting instead that they be called “undocumented Myanmar nationals”.
Large numbers of Rohingya entered Bangladesh in 1978 and again in 1991-92, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says. More fled to Bangladesh during clashes in Rakhine State during October and June of last year, although many were turned back.
But the process stopped completely in July 2005 when the Burma’s government refused to extend the deadline for the original agreement and continued to block some repatriation efforts. Plans to restart it in 2009 but stalled when about 9000 refugees cleared for repatriation refused to return to Burma.
Bangladesh estimates there are about 30,000 documented refugees living in two camps in Cox’s Bazar. Minister for Foreign Affairs Dipu Moni told a session of parliament in June, more than 500,000 Burma’s refugees have entered the country illegally.
The rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in Burma and outbreaks of violence towards the religious minority has drawn international condemnation, but Mr Haque said that he was unaware of anti-Muslim feeling in Burma.
According to refugees, they are very afraid that Bangladesh will forcibly repatriate the Rohingya refugees like before. “If the situation is stable in Arakan State, we will go back, no need to agree for repatriation. We have been denied the right of citizenship by the Burmese government. ”
The refugees also said, “We are surprise as thousands of Rohingyas have been displaced and were many killed, and the situation is going bad to worst day by day, at this situation, why the Bangladesh government proposes to Burmese government about the repatriation of Rohingya refugees?