COX'S BAZAR (Bangladesh) • Bangladesh wants to send up to 100,000 Rohingya back to Myanmar in the first batch of repatriations of the Muslim refugees who fled ethnic violence this year, officials said.
Senior minister Obaidul Quader said a list of 100,000 names was to be sent to the Myanmar authorities yesterday so that repatriations could start late next month under an accord between the two governments.
More than 655,000 Rohingya from Myanmar's Rakhine state have sought refuge in Bangladesh since a military crackdown in late August, fleeing what the United States and the United Nations have described as ethnic cleansing.
That has added to the more than 300,000 in camps in Bangladesh after they fled earlier violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
Dhaka and Naypyitaw signed an agreement last month allowing for repatriations from Jan 23.
Many aid groups and diplomats doubt that the fearful Rohingya will agree to return.
The Rohingya have been the target of past pogroms in Myanmar, which does not recognise the group as a genuine ethnicity and has stripped them of citizenship.
Mr Quader said repatriations would start as soon as a working group of officials from the two countries finalise a list of names.
"Based on the decision of the joint working group, a first list of 100,000 Rohingya will be sent to the Myanmar government today for their safe and honourable return," Mr Quader, Road Transport Minister and deputy leader of the ruling Awami League, said yesterday during a visit to Cox's Bazar, where the refugee camps are.
"The next meeting of the working group, which will be held in Myanmar, will decide how the repatriation process begins," he said. "(The) list will be finalised as early as possible. The repatriation process will begin after the list is finalised."
Mr Abul Kalam Azad, the government relief commissioner for Rohingya refugees, said a decision was made on Thursday by Bangladeshi members of the repatriation working group to send a list of 100,000 names to Myanmar.
He said repatriations would begin after Myanmar verifies the list and the authorities in Bangladesh get consent from willing refugees.
Most Rohingya refugees in the camps insist that they do not want to return, saying Rakhine is not safe enough. Diplomats have expressed doubt about whether Myanmar will allow substantial numbers to return.
According to Mr Azad, nearly one million Rohingya live in Bangladesh, many of whom have been there for decades. Myanmar has agreed to take back refugees who have been arriving since October last year, believed to number about 700,000.