Burma has agreed to take back more than 2,000 Rohingya refugees from camps in Bangladesh following a bilateral agreement between delegations led by Burmese Deputy Foreign Minister Thant Kyaw and Bangladeshi Foreign Minister M Shahidul Haque in Dhaka on Sunday.
According to Burma’s Minister of Information and Presidential Spokesman Ye Htut, Bangladesh had requested that Burma repatriate more than 30,000 refugees, but Burma agreed only to take the more than 2,000 who had qualified under the four basic conditions laid down for repatriation.
Burma’s four basic principles for repatriating refugees are: they can prove they are Burmese citizens; they have evidence that their parents were Burmese citizens; if no such evidence exists, they can supply court documents verifying their Burmese citizenship; and that they are returning to Burma of their own free will.
“We told them that we would accept refugees who want to come back of their own free will,” Ye Htut told DVB on Monday. “The last time we interviewed these refugees in 2005, they said they didn’t want to come back. That’s why we didn’t accept them. Since then, some have died, and some more have been born. We agreed to accept those who meet our four conditions for repatriation. To do that, we will form a bilateral team to review and interview the refugees. The process will take time. We will not be taking them back immediately.”
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that there are more than 200,000 Rohingya refugees at two camps near the border in Bangladesh; it says some 30,000 are from Burma.
However, Ye Htut said, Burmese authorities could only verify a little more than 2,000 people as Burmese citizens; they did not agree with the figure of 30,000 and would not undertake any further investigation to determine their status.
Bangladeshi media quoted Bangladesh’s Foreign Secretary Haque as saying the repatriation of 2,415 Rohingya refugees will take place in two months’ time.
“Foreign Secretary Haque told journalists after the meeting both sides agreed on a number of measures to take the relations forward,” Bangladesh’s BDNEWS24 reported on Sunday, noting that Haque further said that the meeting was held in an “open, frank, and cordial” manner that indicated “greater understanding between the two countries”.
“The Rohingya refugee issue has been the main irritant in the relations [between the two countries,” the report said.
BDNEWS24 also reported that both sides agreed to a prisoner exchange, and discussed Dhaka’s desire to be included in the apportioning of gas from the China/ Korea-backed Shwe Gas project in the Bay of Bengal.
Haque told reporters that the two delegations had also discussed the ongoing issues of an economic corridor linking India, Bangladesh, Burma and China; and road connectivity between Chittagong and Kunming, capital of China’s Yunnan province, through Burma.