Dhaka (AFP) – A Bangladesh official said Thursday that Myanmar had approved several hundred Rohingya from a list of thousands to return to their homeland, but provided no indication of when the long-delayed process would begin.
Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed in November to repatriate three-quarters of a million Rohingya but the deal has stalled indefinitely, with each side blaming the other for a lack of preparation.
Myanmar has so far approved fewer than 600 names from a list of more than 8,000 refugees provided by Bangladesh. The impoverished South Asian nation is housing nearly a million Rohingya in squalid camps along its southeastern border with Myanmar.
Mohammad Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s top official overseeing the repatriation deal, said Myanmar had given no details about when or if the controversial process was expected to begin.
“No date has been fixed yet,” he told reporters. Asked when the process would begin, Kalam said he had “no idea”.
The controversial agreement was supposed to start in January but missed the deadline and has dragged since.
It has attracted a firestorm of criticism from rights groups concerned that the persecuted Muslim minority will not be safe in Myanmar.
Under the agreement, refugees given the green light to return must do so voluntarily but many displaced in Bangladesh have rejected the prospect of returning to Myanmar’s strife-torn Rakhine state.
Rohingya have been persecuted in Rakhine for generations and fear the cycle of violence that has driven them into Bangladesh could repeat.
Kalam said Bangladesh would send another list of around 10,000 refugees to Myanmar in coming weeks for verification. Officials from each country are due to meet in April to discuss the process, he added.
But there is scepticism in Bangladesh, and elsewhere, that repatriation will succeed.
Myanmar has long marginalised the Rohingya as illegal immigrants and the key infrastructure required for the huge endeavour is yet to be constructed.
Bangladesh and Myanmar had agreed to complete the huge process by November.
This month a top Bangladesh cabinet minister, A.M.A Muhith, said it was unlikely the refugees would ever return, accusing Myanmar of deliberately obstructing the process.