Bangladesh and Myanmar have signed a deal for the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees, who have taken shelter in the border town of Cox’s Bazar after a brutal crackdown by the military.
Myanmar‘s foreign ministry confirmed the signing of the agreement on Thursday, without releasing further details.
“I didn’t find any clear statement how these refugees will be repatriated. I’m not sure whether they will be allowed to return to their original village,” Rohingya activist Nay San Lwin told Al Jazeera.
“It looks like they will be placed in the temporary camps, and later the refugees will be locked up in the camps for a long time like the Rohingya in Sittwe for more than five years now.
“Myanmar minister for resettlement and welfare said they will repatriate maximum 300 refugees a day. So it can take up to two decades to repatriate all those refugees.”
Al Jazeera’s Scott Heidler, reporting from Yangon, said the deal was the result of international pressure which has been mounting steadily on Myanmar.
“For Myanmar, it’s very important because it is showing some progress on this Rohingya crisis,” Heidler said.
San Lwin said refugees should not return if their citizenship and basic rights are not guaranteed.
Myanmar minister for resettlement and welfare said they will repatriate maximum 300 refugees a day. So it can take up to two decades to repatriate all those refugees.
“Bangladesh should not send back any Rohingya refugee to Myanmar unless citizenship and basic rights are guaranteed. The people who fled to Bangladesh lived in the open air prison for almost three decades, now it looks like they will be sent back to concentration camps.”
The agreement comes after Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi met Bangladesh’s foreign minister to resolve one of the biggest refugee crisis of modern times.
More than 620,000 people have poured into Bangladesh since August, running from a Myanmar military crackdown that the US said this week clearly constitutes “ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya”.
The talks between Aung San Suu Kyi and her Bangladeshi counterpart come in advance of a highly anticipated visit to both nations by Pope Francis, who has been outspoken about his sympathy for the plight of the Rohingya.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which denies committing atrocities against the Muslim minority, has agreed to work with Bangladesh to repatriate some of the Rohingya piling into desperately overstretched refugee camps.
But the neighbours have struggled to settle on the details, including how many Rohingya will be allowed back in violence-scorched Rakhine, where hundreds of villages have been burned.
Last week Myanmar’s military chief Min Aung Hlaing said it was “impossible to accept the number of persons proposed by Bangladesh”.
Rendered stateless, Rohingya have been the target of communal violence and vicious anti-Muslim sentiment for years.
They have also been systematically oppressed by the government, which stripped the minority of citizenship and severely restricts their movement, as well as their access to basic services.
The latest crisis erupted after Rohingya rebels attacked police posts on August 25.
The army backlash rained violence across northern Rakhine, with refugees recounting nightmarish scenes of soldiers and Buddhist mobs slaughtering villagers and burning down entire communities.
The military denies all allegations but has restricted access to the conflict zone.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has also vowed to deny visas to a UN-fact finding mission tasked with probing accusations of military abuse.