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Myanmar-Bangladesh sign Rohingya return deal

Over 620,000 Rohingya fled into Bangladesh but are set to return as Myanmar and Bangladesh have signed a deal, paving the way for their repatriation

23 November 2017, 3:03pm
Rohingya refugee children struggle as they wait to receive food outside the distribution center at Palong Khali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh (Photo: Al Jazeera)
Rohingya refugee children struggle as they wait to receive food outside the distribution center at Palong Khali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh (Photo: Al Jazeera)
Myanmar and Bangladesh have signed a deal, paving the way for the possible repatriation of Rohingya Muslims, who fled violence in the Rakhine state.

Over 620,000 Rohingya have made their way into Bangladesh since August, fleeing from a military crackdown that was labelled by the UN to be “an ethnic cleansing.”

“Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a memorandum of understanding today,” said Myint Kyaing, the permanent secretary of Myanmar’s ministry of labour, immigration and population.

He said he was unauthorised to provide more details.

A Myanmar government spokesman, Zaw Htay, tweeted than an “agreement on repatriation” was signed, though he could not be reached for further comment.

Myanmar's Union Minister for the Office of the State Counsellor Kyaw Tint Swe, right, and Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abdul Hassan Mahmud Ali exchange notes after signing the arrangement on Thursday (Photo: Myanmar's Ministry of Information)
Myanmar's Union Minister for the Office of the State Counsellor Kyaw Tint Swe, right, and Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abdul Hassan Mahmud Ali exchange notes after signing the arrangement on Thursday (Photo: Myanmar's Ministry of Information)
In brief remarks to the press, Bangladesh’s foreign minister, AH Mahmood Ali, said: “This is a primary step. [They] will take back [Rohingya]. Now we have to start working.”

The scope of the repatriation, including just how many Rohingya will be allowed back and when remain unclear.

Rights groups have raised concerns about the process, including where the minority group will be resettled after hundreds of their villages were destroyed and how their safety will be ensured in a country where anti-Muslim sentiment is surging.

Pope Francis, who has spoken about his sympathy for the plight of the Rohingya, is due to visit both nations next week.

The stateless Rohingya have been the target of violence in mainly Buddhist Myanmar for years. They have been systematically oppressed by the government, which stripped them of citizenship and severely restricts their movement and access to basic services.

The latest unrest erupted after Rohingya rebels attacked police posts on 25 August. The army backlash inflicted violence across northern Rakhine, with refugees recounting scenes of soldiers and Buddhist mobs slaughtering villagers and burning down entire communities.

The military denies all allegations but has restricted access to the conflict zone. The Myanmar government has blocked visas for a UN-fact finding mission tasked with investigating allegations of military abuse.