01/04/2018, 18.29
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Data collection begins next week for Rohingya repatriation to Myanmar

Bangladeshi authorities pledge that return for the first 100,000 refugees will be voluntary. The operation is set to start on 22 January. But the Myanmar government has not received any completed form yet.

Dhaka (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Bangladesh will start collecting data next week to begin the process of repatriating hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees to Myanmar, the nation’s refugee relief commissioner said on Wednesday.

“We have already formed a nine-member technical committee to collect the data about the potential returnees. The committee includes members from the Home Ministry, Disaster Management Ministry, Bureau of Statistics and other relevant departments of the government,” said Commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam.

According to the deal, refugees will start to go back on 22 January. During the first phase, Bangladesh officials expect to hand over about 100,000 Rohingya.

The agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar was signed on 23 November. It provides for the safe and voluntary return of refugees from camps set up in Bangladesh along the border, in particular in the Cox's Bazar strip.

Some 655,000 people were displaced by violence last August, as were another 70,000 in October.

However, despite good intentions, the procedures appear slow and complex for now.

“We maintain a database of the Myanmar nationals entering Bangladesh. We will match the data collected with the database before handing the filled forms over to the Myanmar,” Kallam said.

Actual repatriation will only start after the Myanmar government verifies the data, including name, age, gender, parents, children and home village.

“We have sent the forms for the refugees to fill out, but we haven’t received any of the [completed] ones from Bangladesh yet,” said Myint Kyaing, permanent secretary of the Myanmar Ministry of Labour, Immigration, and Population.

Meanwhile, the 30-member joint working group, headed by the two countries’ foreign secretaries, to oversee the process, has not yet convened. Some sources indicate a first meeting was set for 9 January; others suggested 15 January.

Pope Francis spoke on several occasions about the fate of Muslim refugees before, during and after his pastoral visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh. In Dhaka he met with a group of them.

"I was very touched by the meeting with the Rohingya refugees,” the pontiff said. “I asked them to forgive us for our failings and for our silence, asking the international community to help them and to help all the oppressed and persecuted groups present in the world."

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