Burma has struck a deal with Bangladesh to resettle more than 6,000 Rohingya Muslims who have been stranded in a no-man’s-land between the two countries.
The move comes as plans for the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of other Rohingya Muslims have been delayed over concerns for their safety if they return to Burma, officials said.
About 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled army-led violence in Buddhist-majority Burma since August and are living in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Some, however, became stranded at the Tombru border point after Burma reportedly began building bunkers and told the refugees to leave and enter Bangladesh, which denied their entry.
Ali Hossain, the top government administrator in Cox’s Bazar district, said officials from the countries agreed that Burma would identify the stranded refugees and then resettle them.
He said Burma invited Bangladeshi officials to visit the Tombru border point in Naikkhongchhari and talk to the refugees.
“There was a dispute about who will verify them. We said that is the duty of Burma as they have not entered Bangladesh territory,” he said. “Burma has agreed to list and resettle them.”
Bangladesh Relief and Refugee Commissioner Abul Kalam said they went to the site to “encourage the refugees” to go back voluntarily.
“The refugees told us they want to go back and get settled in their homes. We pressed the Myanmar authorities to create a congenial and safe atmosphere to resettle them,” Mr Kalam said by phone. “The Burma side has agreed to take that responsibility.”
Mr Kalam said their return must be voluntary under the terms of a November agreement between the two countries.
Last Friday, Bangladesh home minister Asaduzzaman Khan gave a list of 8,032 Rohingya refugees to his Burmese counterpart to begin repatriations. The list contained the members of 1,673 Rohingya families. Tuesday’s decision was unrelated to that list.
The two countries originally agreed to begin repatriations last month, but they were delayed by concerns among aid workers and Rohingya that they would be forced to return and face unsafe conditions in Burma.
The August violence erupted after an underground insurgent group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, attacked security outposts in Rakhine. In retaliation, the military and Buddhist mobs launched “clearance operations” against Rohingya.
Burma’s security forces have been accused of atrocities against the Rohingya, including killing, rape and arson. The United Nations and the US have described the army crackdown as ethnic cleansing.
The Rohingya have long been treated as outsiders in Burma, even though their families have lived in the country for generations. Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, effectively rendering them stateless. They are denied freedom of movement and other basic rights.
UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi told the security council last week that conditions are not right for Rohingya to voluntarily return because Burma has not addressed their denial of rights. Mr Grandi also said Rohingya are still fleeing Burma and thousands more are expected to leave.
Bangladesh said more than a million Rohingya are currently living in Bangladesh.