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Bangladesh to return Rohingya refugees to Myanmar

November 23, 2017

They fled burning villages, systematic rape and arbitrary killings. Now Bangladesh has signed a deal with Myanmar to return some of its hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees.

Rohingya refugees in a camp in Bangladesh for those displaced by violence in Myanmar
Image: DW/ P. Vishwanathan

Bangladesh will return to Myanmar refugees who fled ethnic violence in Rakhine state earlier this year, according to officials in both countries.

More than 600,000 Rohingya refugees are living in overstretched refugee camps in Bangladesh.

"The return shall commence within two months," Bangladesh announced in a statement on Thursday.

Myint Kyaing — a permanent secretary at Myanmar's ministry of labor, immigration and population — said the two countries had signed a memorandum of understanding to repatriate Rohingya refugees.

"We are ready to take them back as soon as possible after Bangladesh sends the forms back to us," she told Reuters.

Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi met with Bangladesh's foreign minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali on Thursday to sign the deal on the status of the Rohingya, as international pressure mounts on both countries. They have struggled to agree on how many of the Rohingya living in Bangladesh's overcrowded refugee camps should be repatriated back to Myanmar.

"This is a primary step," Ali said. "[They] will take back [Rohingya]. Now we have to start working."

Read more: 

'Apartheid' in Myanmar, accuses Amnesty

Myanmar: EU and Germany see positive signals amid Rohingya crisis

Rohingya crisis: Rights group accuses Myanmar military of widespread rape

"Ethnic cleansing"

About 600,000 Rohingya have crossed the border from Myanmar to Bangladesh since August, fleeing from a military crackdown that human rights groups have denounced as "ethnic cleansing."

On Wednesday the United States echoed the strong international condemnation of Myanmar's treatment of its Muslim ethnic minority.

"After a careful and thorough analysis of available facts, it is clear that the situation in northern Rakhine state constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya," US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement.

The Rohingya are a stateless ethnic group who have lived in Buddhist-majority Myanmar for centuries. They have endured widespread discrimination and are considered by many to be illegal immigrants.

Talks between Myanmar and Bangladesh come ahead of a visit to both nations from Pope Francis next week.

The leader of the Catholic Church has been outspoken in his sympathy for the Rohingya refugees, calling for peace and interfaith acceptance. He has denounced the plight of refugee children in Bangladeshi camps.

an/rt (AFP, dpa, Reuters)