DHAKA (Reuters) – Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed to take assistance from the U.N. refugee agency for the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali said on Saturday.
The two governments signed a pact on Thursday settling the terms for the repatriation process, and the return of the Rohingya to Myanmar is expected to start in two months.
Uncertainty over whether the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) would have a role had prompted rights groups to insist that outside monitors were needed to safeguard the Rohingya’s return.
More than 600,000 Rohingya sought sanctuary in Bangladesh after Myanmar’s military launched a brutal counter-insurgency in their villages across the northern parts of Rakhine State following attacks by Rohingya militants on an army base and police posts on Aug. 25.
“The signing of the deal is a first step. The two countries will now have to work on more steps,” Ali told a news conference.
“Both countries agreed to take assistance from the UNHCR in the Rohingya repatriation process,” he said. “Myanmar will take its assistance as per their requirement.”
A joint working group of the three parties will be formed within three weeks and the group will fix the final terms to start the repatriation process, said Ali.
“Our priority is to ensure their safe return to their homeland with honor,” the minister said.
After repatriation, Rohingya Muslims will be kept at makeshift camps near to their abandoned homes, he said.
“Homes have been burned to the ground in Rakhine, that need to be rebuilt. We have proposed Myanmar to take help from India and China for building camps for them,” the minister said.
The U.N. and United States have described the military’s actions as “ethnic cleansing”, and rights groups have accused Myanmar’s security forces of atrocities, including mass rape, arson and killings.
Under the deal, Myanmar will take measures to see that the returnees will not be settled in temporary places for a long time and Myanmar will issue them an identity card for national verification immediately on their return.
Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Christian Schmollinger