Bangladesh says start of Rohingya return to Myanmar delayed

Bangladesh says start of Rohingya return to Myanmar delayed

The repatriation deal covers a total of 750,000 refugees who have fled since October 2016, but does not include the estimated 200,000 Rohingya who were living in Bangladesh prior to that, driven out by previous rounds of communal violence and military operations. But the countries were unable to compile and verify the list of refugees to be sent back by the target date, highlighting the challenges of repatriating the refugees.

Bangladesh has asked Myanmar to take back these refugees, but Azad said they would not be considered part of the official repatriation process as they were not technically inside Bangladeshi territory.

But on Monday, refugee chief Kalam said transit centres still needed to be built, and work remained to be done on the "rigorous process" of approving lists of those entitled - and willing - to return to Myanmar.

"We are ready to accept them once they come back".

While both countries have agreed to begin the voluntary repatriation today over the next two years, Bangladesh told Reuters yesterday that the process will be delayed. Myanmar pushed especially hard to start the process as soon as possible.

He declined to comment on whether Bangladesh had informed Myanmar about the delay.

The Rohingya Muslims have always been treated as outsiders in largely Buddhist Myanmar, derided as "Bengalis" who entered illegally from Bangladesh, even though generations of Rohingya have lived in Myanmar.

But Abul Kalam, Bangladesh's refugee relief and rehabilitation commissioner said on Monday that the return would have to be delayed.

It added that Rohingya refugees are continuing to cross the border in search of safety in Bangladesh.

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David Mathieson, a longtime human rights researcher who has spent years working on Rohingya issues, heaped scorn on the agreement ahead of the latest announcement. "Coming back is not going to be easy".

Some Myanmar officials have mixed feelings about the repatriation. The military and Buddhist mobs then launched retaliatory attacks on Rohingya across Rakhine in a frenzy of killings, rapes and burned villages. At least 6,700 Rohingya people were killed, according to humanitarian NGO Doctors Without Borders.

A Rohingya man passes a child though a barbed wire border fence on the border with Bangladesh. Most refugees came in the first month or so after the violence began, but some continue to trickle into Bangladesh, complaining of ill-treatment by authorities.

An aid worker with an worldwide agency in Bangladesh reports: "What we're seeing is that many Rohingya people are sick". Myanmar, meanwhile, wants the repatriations to lessen the global condemnation it has faced for the violence.

"The rumors that refugees don't want to return home are not correct".

On Friday, hundreds of Rohingya refugees in Kutupalong staged protests over the planned repatriation and banners appeared in several camps listing pre-conditions for returning to Myanmar including citizenship, education and freedom of movement. Forty buildings have been finished already in the Hla Po Kaung transit camp, enough for more than 3,000 refugees, state media have reported.

Local authorities in Cox's Bazar on Monday prevented hundreds of them from holding a rally at one large camp.

Rights groups and the United Nations have said any repatriation must be voluntary, with reports that many Rohingya settlements have been burned to the ground. "We think that these Bengalis have gone back to their original land - Bangladesh".