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  • Rohingya refugees stand in a queue to collect aid supplies in Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox

    Rohingya refugees stand in a queue to collect aid supplies in Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, January 21, 2018. | Photo: Reuters

Published 21 January 2018

The UNHCR has said Rohingya returns need to be voluntary and that the agency has played no role in repatriation discussions so far. 

Tensions are escalating as the Rohingya in Bangladesh's refugee camps prepare to head back to Myanmar, the region from where they were forced to flee earlier. 

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Several members of the minority community held banners protesting the transfer when United Nations Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee visited camps along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border.  

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, has said Rohingya returns need to be voluntary and that the agency has played no role in repatriation discussions so far. 

“UNHCR has not been part of discussions (on repatriation) to date, but has offered support to engage in the process to ensure that the voices of refugees are heard,” Caroline Gluck, a senior protection officer for the agency, told Reuters. 

“The pace of returns should be determined by the refugees themselves.”

On Friday, the Rohingya leaders in Kutupalong, a refugee camp in Bangladesh, laid out demands. The two primary demands stated that the Rohingya should be recognized as one of the country's ethnic minorities and granted citizenship. The displaced ethnic minority facing genocide has also urged the government to rebuild institutions, such as homes, mosques and schools.

Rohingya elders in a Bangladesh refugee camp told Reuters that Bangladeshi army officials have contacted them over the last two days, asking them to prepare lists of families from their camps for repatriation. 

Four leaders said they met with the army officials at the Gungdum camp on Saturday. 

"When we said we cannot provide the lists because people are not ready to return, they asked us to bring their WP cards," said Musa, a leader at the Gungdum camp, referring to relief cards provided by the UN’s World Food Programme.

Rashedul Hasan, a spokesman for Bangladesh's Army, also told Reuters that he was not aware of army officials threatening to take away food cards. 

Diplomats stationed in Dhaka laid emphasis on the "safe, voluntary and dignified" return of Rohingyas from Bangladesh to Myanmar to make their return sustainable, the Daily Star reported.

The Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka Harsh Vardhan Shringla said it is necessary to have sustainable development in Rakhine state to have a safe and sustainable environment for the return of Rohingya. 

Over 655,500 Muslim Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since last August's crackdown by Myanmar military in the northern part of Rakhine state in response to militant attacks on security forces. Months later, the United Nations described the military operation as an "ethnic cleansing" of the Rohingya, which the Myanmar government has denied. 

Per an agreement signed last week, Myanmar is bound to receive Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh at two reception centers and a temporary camp near a shared border effective Tuesday over the course of the next two years. 


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