Rohingya refugees may stay in Bangladesh for some time: UNHCR chief

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi speaking at a press conference in Dhaka, on July 10, 2017.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi speaking at a press conference in Dhaka, on July 10, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

DHAKA (AFP) - Nearly half a million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar living in squalid Bangladeshi camps face staying "for some more time", the United Nations high commissioner for refugees said on Monday (July 10).

Mr Filippo Grandi, chief of UNHCR, visited two refugee camps in Cox's Bazar on the south-east coast, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled violence in neighbouring Myanmar.

He warned that the minority group faced a "very dire state in northern Rakhine", bordering Cox's Bazar, adding that Myanmar officials had said the verification procedure for refugees before any repatriation would be lengthy.

"We offered our technical expertise (to Myanmar). I think it's possible that refugees will stay here in Bangladesh for some more time," he said in Dhaka.

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The refugee chief also tweeted on Monday: "Struck by sense of despair of refugees in Cox's Bazaar: tangible progress in Myanmar & better opportunities can restore trust in the future."

Bangladesh in 2015 caused an international outcry after revealing plans to relocate tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees to a barren island prone to monsoonal flooding.

Earlier this year, Dhaka ordered preliminary construction to start at the site in Thengar Char in the Bay of Bengal.

Mr Grandi, who met Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during his trip, said any relocation should be voluntary.

"None should be forcefully relocated," he added.

Dhaka estimates that 400,000 Rohingya refugees are living in Bangladesh, including nearly 70,000 who have arrived since October last year, fleeing violence in Myanmar's western Rakhine state. Many recalled horrific stories of villages being torched, relatives burned alive and the gang rape of women by security forces.