A delegation from Myanmar is visiting Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh this week to verify a few hundred potential returnees for a pilot repatriation project.
A Bangladeshi official said on Wednesday it was unclear when the mainly Muslim refugees would be going home.
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Nearly a million Rohingya are living in camps in Bangladesh in the border district of Cox’s Bazar, most having fled a military-led crackdown in Myanmar in 2017 that is now the subject of a genocide case at the International Court of Justice.
Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner in Cox’s Bazar, Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, told Reuters news agency there was a list of 1,140 Rohingya to be repatriated under the pilot project, of which 711 have had their cases cleared.
Cases for the remaining 429 on the list, including some newborn babies, were still being processed.
“We are ready” to send them back, Rahman said, adding he did not know when that could begin.
So far, Myanmar’s generals, who seized power in a coup two years ago, have shown little inclination to take back Rohingya refugees.
The minority group was stripped of its citizenship in 1982 and Rohingya who remain in Myanmar’s Rakhine state live with severe restrictions on their movement.
China’s ambassador to Bangladesh Yao Wen hoped the first batch of displaced Rohingya would be repatriated soon while Beijing continued its role as mediator, the official Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha news agency reported.
Crammed in tens of thousands of huts made of bamboo and thin plastic sheets, refugees’ living conditions in the camps are dangerous.
Two years ago, a massive blaze in the camp killed at least 15 people and destroyed more than 10,000 homes. Another fire earlier this month left 12,000 people without shelter.
Aside from longstanding problems such as the lack of employment and educational opportunities, the camps also suffer from surging crime.
Desperate to find somewhere better, many Rohingya have risked their lives making the hazardous sea voyage from Bangladesh to countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia.
According to the United Nations estimates, at least 348 Rohingya are thought to have died at sea last year.