The repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar due to begin Tuesday will be delayed, a Bangladesh official said, citing the huge task of preparing transit centres and approving lists of returnees.
Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Abul Kalam Azad did not give a revised starting date for plans by his country and Myanmar to repatriate some 750,000 refugees who fled unrest and a military crackdown in Rakhine state.
“We have not made the preparations required to send back people from tomorrow. A lot of preparation is still needed,” Azad on Monday.
A “rigorous process” was required before repatriation could begin, including building transit centres and compiling a list of potential returnees for verification by Myanmar, he said.
Two sites near the border had been identified by authorities for possible transit sites where refugees would be housed before handed over to Myanmar, Azad said.
“Without completing this, we cannot send these people back all of a sudden. This work is ongoing,” he said.
The repatriation process is expected to take two years.
Rights groups and the UN have said any repatriation of the Rohingya, who face desperate conditions in overcrowded camps near the countries’ shared border, must be voluntary.
Refugees have protested against the prospect of return, with many describing atrocities including murder, rape and arson attacks on their homes.
Concerns have also been raised about conditions in Myanmar, where many Rohingya settlements have been burned to the ground by soldiers and Buddhist mobs.
Bangladesh has sought to assure the international community that the operation would involve the UN’s refugee agency.