RVISION January 23, 2018

The gradual repatriation of more than 650,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees to Myanmar from Bangladesh has been postponed amid widespread fears that refugees would be forced to return against their will, a Bangladeshi official has said.

“The main thing is that the process has to be voluntary,” said Abul Kalam, the refugee and repatriation commissioner. He added that paperwork for returning refugees had not yet been finalised and transit camps had yet to be built in Bangladesh.

Myanmar had announced that the repatriation process would begin on Tuesday, two months after the signing of the first agreement on returns, on 23 November. Bangladeshi officials, however, have appeared reluctant to confirm a start date.

On Sunday, AH Mahmood Ali, Bangladesh’s foreign minister, told a press conference he could not could not give a specific day. “The process is ongoing,” he said. “You will see when it begins.”

It was not immediately clear whether a new commencement date would be set.

There have been concerns among international aid workers and the Rohingya that the refugees could be coerced to go back to Myanmar. Most Rohingya refugees fled the country just months ago, escaping attacks by security forces and Buddhist mobs.

Sayed Noor, who fled in August, said: “If they send us back forcefully we will not go.” He added that Myanmar authorities “have to give us our rights and give us justice”.

The agreement signed in November said the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who had fled Myanmar since August would eventually leave Bangladesh in a process that guaranteed them “safety, security and dignity”.

Rohingya leaders drew up a list last week of minimum demands they said needed to be met before the refugees would agree to return. These include holding the military accountable for alleged killings, looting and rape, and releasing “innocent Rohingya” detained in counter-insurgency operations.

David Mathieson, a human rights researcher who has spent years working on Rohingya issues, criticised the agreement before the latest announcement.

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