TEKNAF: Myanmar officials were meeting with Rohingya refugees on Wednesday in what Bangladeshi authorities said was the revival of a long-stalled effort to return the stateless minority to their homeland.

Bangladesh is home to around a million Rohingya, most of whom fled a 2017 military crackdown in neighbouring Myanmar now subject to a UN genocide investigation.

Both countries signed an agreement to return them later that year but little progress has been made, leaving the refugees to languish in squalid relief camps.

Shamsud Douza, Bangladesh’s deputy refugee commissioner, said that a 17-member team led by a senior official in Myanmar’s immigration ministry arrived in the border town of Teknaf on Wednesday morning.

More than 700 Rohingya will be interviewed by the delegation to assess the suitability of their return to Myanmar, an official from the commission said.

It was “the first time since 2017 a Myanmar team has arrived to interview in person the Rohingya refugees for repatriation,” a senior foreign ministry official said.

“We expect repatriation will start before the monsoon,” he said, referring to the rains that inundate the region every June.

The official insisted that no Rohingya would be returned against their will.

A spokesman for Myanmar’s junta confirmed the visit but said he could not provide details.

China is mediating between both countries on the renewed repatriation push and Beijing’s ambassador to Dhaka, Yao Wen, told on Tuesday that repatriation would start “very soon”.

This month Chinese and Bangladeshi diplomats went on a tour of Myanmar border areas to examine preparations for the return of refugees, Beijing’s embassy in Myanmar said this week.

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2023

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