Rohingya returnees need to be reintegrated into Myanmar society: Bangladeshi commissioner

A Rohingya refugee woman places her water contrainers in a queue at Hakimpara refugee camp in Ukhia, Bangladesh, on Jan 27, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

COX'S BAZAR - For repatriation of Rohingya refugees to take place, there must be preparations within Myanmar that would allow returnees to be reintegrated into society, said Bangladesh's refugee relief and repatriation commissioner Abul Kalam.

"Safety is a big issue. It's not only about taking them back to their respective villages, for example...these people have to be reintegrated into their society," he told reporters in his office earlier this week.

Bangladesh would also need time to draw up a list of families that volunteered to return, and get the list approved by the Myanmar government.

He would not say on Wednesday ( Jan 31) when the actual repatriation would begin, but denied that it could take several years.

The repatriation was supposed to start on Jan 23 but was postponed by Bangladesh, which said then that preparations were not completed.

Rohingya militant attacks in Myanmar's Rakhine state on Aug 25 last year (2017) triggered a scorched-earth military response that led to the exodus of some 700,000 people. It also hardened nationalist sentiments against the Rohingya Muslims, who are not recognised as one of Myanmar's ethnic groups.

Despite widespread reports of atrocities during the military's "clearance operation", it has only admitted one occasion - in Inn Din village where soldiers conducted an extrajudicial killing of 10 Rohingya.

Mr Mohammad Abul Kalam, refugee relief and repatriation commissioner in Bangladesh, is pictured in his office in Cox's Bazar. ST PHOTO: TAN HUI YEE

In an article published earlier this week, the Associated Press reported on at least five mass graves that contained the bodies of people massacred in Gu Dar Pyin village on Aug 27.

According to survivors, the soldiers came with weapons and shovels to dig holes, as well as acid to melt the body parts and make the corpses unrecognisable.

The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Dr Yanghee Lee, said the military operations last year bore the "the hallmarks of a genocide".

On Friday (Feb 2), Rakhine state authorities refuted the AP report and said that "terrorists" had attacked security forces there. The bodies of 19 "terrorists" were found after the fighting and buried, according to the government mouthpiece Global New Light of Myanmar.

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