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Rohingya refugees to return ‘within two years’

The UN has raised concerns over the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees, who fled a military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, within the next two years as agreed upon by Bangladesh and Myanmar.

As part of a repatriation deal signed by the two Asian neighbours in November last year, Bangladesh and Myanmar officials at a joint meeting in Naypyidaw on Tuesday agreed on plans to facilitate the return of those displaced since August.

“Much work remains to be done in the context of the Rohingya refugee situation to ensure that any potential returns are voluntary, that they occur in conditions of safety and dignity, and that they are sustainable,” said Caroline Gluck, senior public information officer for UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.

“The protection of the Rohingya refugees must be guaranteed both in Bangladesh and upon their return to Myanmar,” she told Al Jazeera in an emailed response.

Earlier, Bangladesh’s foreign ministry said in a statement that “the repatriation would be completed preferably within two years from its commencement”.

“There will be two working groups – one will work on verification process for Rohingya, and the other will facilitate the return of verified refugees to Myanmar,” an official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who preferred to remain unnamed, said.

When asked whether the verification process is different from the one outlined in 1992 when a similar crisis had led to another deal being agreed upon, the ministry official declined to clarify, saying the foreign secretary will clarify the issue later.

Under the arrangement, Bangladesh would possibly establish five transit camps from where returnees would be received initially in two reception centres on the Myanmar side, the statement revealed.

Some 1,550 refugees will be sent back each week, which will add up to approximately 156,000 over a period of two years.

“Myanmar has reiterated its commitment to stop the outflow of Myanmar residents to Bangladesh,” the Bangladesh foreign ministry said.

The agreement does not specify when repatriation will commence but outlines providing temporary shelter to returning Rohingya and building houses for them later.

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