Myanmar held repatriation talks with Rohingya representatives in a Bangladesh refugee camp, amid speculation that it is only an attempt to ease international pressure on Nay Pyi Taw.
Around 740,000 Rohingya fled a 2017 military crackdown, described by the UN as having “genocidal intent”. They are mostly living with earlier refugees in crowded camps in Bangladesh’s border district of Cox’s Bazar.
The Dhaka Tribune quoted Rohingya sources saying: “The Myanmar side is still denying citizenship to Rohingya, which is our core demand.”
The neighbouring states signed a repatriation agreement in November 2017 but so far almost no members of the largely Muslim group have volunteered to go back to Rakhine State, where the group has faced decades of repression.
“Without citizenship rights and safety guarantee, we [will] never return to Myanmar,” Mohammad Ansar Ali at Kutupalang camp reportedly told Anadolu Agency.
He said returning to Rakhine without ensuring safety and dignity meant that they would face ongoing persecution.
Apparently the two sides agreed to meet again without giving a date.
Satellite pictures have cast doubt on promises that arrangements are being made by the Rakhine authorities for the return of Rohingya and suggest the destruction of their villages has continued.
Despite repeated assurances by Nay Pyi Taw that it would repatriate the Rohingya, reparations for their return have been “minimal”, according to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).
“We’ve found no evidence of widespread preparation for Rohingya refugees to return to safe and dignified conditions,” the report said.
It added that the burning of Rohingya villages in Rakhine had continued until this year.
The ASPI said at least 58 Rohingya settlements were subjected to fresh demolition last year. Satellite pictures also showed the demolition of other Rohingya villages this year. The group said it appeared to be part of a government campaign to ensure there were no habitable villages for the Rohingya to return to.
“What surprised me most was the scale of the continued burning after 2017,” Nathan Ruser, one of the report’s authors, told the Guardian. “It wasn’t just scattered villages or occasional homes being burned in 2018 and 2019, the military went through whole landscapes and burned every village. So there is still that widespread, ongoing destruction of Rohingya residential areas.
“This, in particular, undercuts the message from the Myanmar government that they are willing to pursue a repatriation process.”
Resource-rich Rakhine State is one of the poorest areas of Myanmar. Picture credit: Asean Economist