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  • The first group of refugees would return to Myanmar next week, providing any agree to go back.

    The first group of refugees would return to Myanmar next week, providing any agree to go back. | Photo: Reuters

Published 16 August 2019 (5 hours 26 minutes ago)

Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed in January 2018 to complete a voluntary repatriation of the refugees in two years but nothing has moved forward yet.

The Myanmar government said Friday it was prepared for Bangladesh to repatriate more than 3,600 Rohingya refugees who fled violence in the western state of Rakhine two years ago after a military-led crackdown against the Muslim minority.

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The director-general of the international organization and economic department at Myanmar's foreign ministry, U Chan Aye, said his country was ready to start the process next Thursday, Aug. 22, but was waiting for the Bangladeshi side to confirm the date.

"If the process goes well, we will start with over 3,600 people," the minister told EFE.

The move comes a year and a half after a major repatriation attempt floundered when Rohingya refugees refused to return to the country they fled amid fears of more violence against them.

Mohammed Eleyas, an activist with the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, said refugees had not been consulted about the process.

Myanmar should agree to the key demands of the community before repatriation begins, he said in a message to Reuters.

The Rohingya mass exodus began Aug. 25, 2017, when Myanmar's army launched an offensive in Rakhine state, bordering Bangladesh, with the purported aim of suppressing Rohingya insurgents.

The minority group is not recognized by authorities in Nay Pyi Taw who consider them to be Bangladeshi immigrants. The Myanmar state had not allowed them any citizenship despite having been present in the country's territory for centuries.

The predominantly-Muslim Rohingya people have also been subjected to widespread discrimination over the past decades by Buddhist nationalists.

Since the 2017 crackdown, almost a million Rohingya refugees – most of them women and children – languish amid poor sanitary conditions within sprawling refugee camps in the eastern Bangladeshi coastal city of Cox's Bazaar.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) in July denounced Myanmar's "minimal preparation" for the return of Rohingya refugees through an analysis of satellite images of the region. 

According to the ASPI, some 320 out of the 392 Rohingya villages that were razed to the ground during the 2017 military operation show no signs of reconstruction.

United Nations observers have described the army crackdown as "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing" and "possible genocide" and underlined the need for a return process that is safe, dignified and voluntary.

Meanwhile, another 125,000 Rohingya still live in segregated conditions as internally-displaced persons within Rakhine since an outburst of religious violence in 2012. 

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