By Robin Gomes
Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh refuse to return to Myanmar unless they are recognised as an ethnic group with citizenship in their home country, leaders told visiting Myanmar officials on Sunday as fresh repatriation talks started to discuss creating conditions for their safe repatriation.
A 10-member Myanmar delegation, led by permanent foreign secretary Myint Thu, held talks with 35 Rohingya leaders in Cox’s Bazar on Saturday and Sunday.
In October, the Rohingya rejected an offer to go back to their homeland when a Myanmar delegation held talks with leaders of the group.
The Rohingya are a largely Muslim ethnic group, that mostly lives in Western Myanmar’s Rakhine state bordering Bangladesh. Buddhist-majority Myanmar considers the Rohingya illegal immigrants from Bangladesh even though they have lived in the country for generations.
Denied citizenship under a nationality law passed by the government’s military regime in 1982, they are virtually stateless and are denied freedom of movement and other basic rights.
The Rohingya were the targets of intercommunal violence in 2012 that killed hundreds and drove about 140,000 people from their homes to displacement camps, where most remain.
A campaign by Myanmar's military in response to insurgent attacks in August 2017 sent over 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh's southeastern border district of Cox's Bazar, where they live in squalid camps, fearing further persecution if they return.
United Nations investigators have said Myanmar's operation included mass killings, gang rapes and arson and was executed with "genocidal intent". Myanmar denies the charge.
Conducive environment and conditions for repatriation
Rohingya leaders said they wanted Myanmar to recognise them as an ethnic group with the right to Myanmar citizenship before they return.
Bangladesh is now hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas, mostly from Myanmar’s offensive since 2017. The monsoon rains and floods have exacerbated the already squalid conditions in the refugee camps.
Dil Mohammed, a Rohingya leader who took part in the talks told Reuters that they won’t return unless they are “recognised as Rohingya in Myanmar” and unless their demands for justice, international protection and the ability to go back to their original villages and lands are met.
"We want citizenship, we want all our rights. We don't trust them. We will return only if international protection is in place," he said.
In November, a formal move to start the repatriation process stalled as no Rohingya agreed to return to Myanmar.
After a meeting with the Myanmar delegation on Monday, Bangladesh Acting Foreign Secretary Kamrul Ahsan told reporters that he has handed over a fresh list of 25,000 Rohingyas for verification before their repatriation. Bangladesh has so far handed over names of around 55,000 Rohingyas to the Myanmar authorities.
Abul Kalam, Bangladesh's refugee relief and repatriation commissioner said they are ready to begin the repatriation anytime but Myanmar needs to create a conducive environment to allow the Rohingya to return home.