Myanmar blames Bangladesh for delaying refugee repatriation

01 November 2017
Myanmar blames Bangladesh for delaying refugee repatriation
Rohingya refugees wait to get relief goods in Ukhiya, Coxsbazar, Bangladesh, 10 October 2017. Photo: Abir Abdullah/EPA-EFE

Myanmar on Wednesday accused Bangladesh of delaying the repatriation of Rohingya Muslims who have fled Rakhine state since August, as conditions worsen for the stateless minority penned into squalid refugee camps.
More than 600,000 members of the Muslim minority have fled a brutal army crackdown in mainly Buddhist Myanmar over the past two months.
After weeks of intense global pressure Myanmar vowed to take back Rohingya who meet "verification" standards.
But the criteria remain vague, raising fears it will be used to restrict the number of returnees.
On Wednesday Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay pointed the finger at Bangladesh for allegedly delaying the repatriation.
"The Myanmar government already declared we are ready to receive (the refugees) at any time... but the Bangladeshi government is still considering the agreement between the two countries," he told AFP.
Dhaka has yet to send an official list of the Rohingya who have fled since August 25, he added.
The Myanmar spokesman declined to elaborate on comments he made to the local press linking the delay to $400 million in aid which Dhaka had received to expand housing for Rohingya.
"Currently they have got nearly $400 million. Over their receipt of this amount, we are now afraid of (them) delaying the programme of deporting the refugees," he was quoted as saying.
A senior Bangladesh foreign ministry official denied Dhaka was dragging its feet, telling AFP the two countries were working to overcome differences in drafts of a repatriation agreement.
Myanmar "were themselves not prepared", the official said, requesting anonymity.
Myanmar has said Rohingya will have to prove prior residence in Rakhine in order to return -- but this could be difficult for many members of a stateless minority who lack proper documentation.
The government has previously only issued ID cards to Rohingya willing to identify as "Bengalis" -- a name that brands them as foreigners.
Repatriation will also be complicated by the scale of destruction in Rakhine, where hundreds of Rohingya villages have been reduced to ash.
Relief workers say some refugees have expressed reluctance to return if it would mean living in camp-like settlements or being barred from the land they had before.
Meanwhile, Myanmar authorities have begun a new drive to issue National Verification cards inside Rakhine, where a dwindling number of Rohingya have stayed on despite severe food shortages and soaring communal tensions.
Those who sign up are rewarded with food and mosquito nets, reported the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper.