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Uncertainty clouds start of Rohingya return slated for Thursday

A cloud of uncertainty hangs over the planned start of repatriation of the Rohingya refugees scheduled for Thursday at the last minute amid calls from the UN to halt the process. Reuters news agency, citing an unnamed source, reported on Wednesday night that the process would not begin as planned because “nobody wants to go back". Neither Bangladesh nor Myanmar has said anything officially. Myanmar Ambassador Lwin Oo said on Monday that the repatriation would start as planned.

On Wednesday, officials of Bangladeshs Refugee Repatriation and Relief Commission met representatives of different international agencies and the government, but no-one was willing to disclose the outcome of the discussions.

The first group of Rohingyas selected for repatriation was not taken to the transit camp set up near the border until Wednesday night, according to Refugee Repatriation and Relief Commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam.

“A few other jobs are yet to be done. We are working. Lets see what happens tomorrow morning. We want to be optimistic,” he told bdnews24.com.

“Weve made preparations. The issue will be clear by (Thursday) morning,” he added.

According to an agreement between the two countries, 2,260 Rohingyas of 485 families from Jamtoli refugee shelter at Ukhia and Teknafs Unchiprang shelter in Coxs Bazar will be repatriated in 15 days, with 150 per day.

The repatriation commission has been preparing over the past few days for sending back the first batch of Rohigyas through the Ghumdhum border in Bandarbans Naikkhyangchharhi.

The transit camp has been set up two and a half kilometres from the border with arrangements for the brief stay of the Rohingya returnees.

The United Nations, however, has urged Bangladesh to scrap the plan of starting the repatriation now, saying conditions in Myanmar are not yet safe for the Rohingyas, in part because the Buddhists in the country have been protesting against the repatriation.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday warned that the Rohingyas lives would be at "serious risk" if they were sent back to Myanmar.

Forcibly returning or expelling refugees and asylum-seekers to their home country would violate international law which forbids it to places where returnees face threats of persecution or their lives would be endangered, she added.

More than 700,000 Rohingyas have crossed the border to join around 400,000 refugees in Bangladesh after Myanmar launched an army operation against the minority Muslims on Aug 25 last year after insurgent attacks on security posts.

The UN has dubbed the operation ethnic cleansing and found Myanmar militarys genocidal intent in the crackdown on the Rohingyas.

Following pressure from the international community and widespread criticism, Myanmar signed an agreement with Bangladesh in the beginning of this year to take back the recently displaced Rohingyas, but the process was delayed for different reasons.

Finally on Oct 30, the two countries agreed to start the process in mid-November.

The global bodys refugee agency UNHCR earlier this year signed agreements with both Myanmar and Bangladesh to ensure voluntary, safe and dignified return of the refugees.

BBC Bangla reported that UNHCR representatives spoke to 50 families on the repatriation list to be confirmed that they were returning on own volition.

The UN agency handed a report on the discussions with the Rohingyas to the repatriation commission on Wednesday.

Kalam said he forwarded the report to Dhaka.

Citing a senior official at the commission, BBC Bangla said the 150 Rohingyas on the list of the first batch for repatriation do not want to return to Myanmar.

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