Myanmar and Bangladesh have agreed on a timeline to fully repatriate hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have fled violence in Myanmar.
Statements from Myanmar and Bangladesh’s foreign ministries said Bangladesh said the asylum seekers would return within two years, agreeing to accept 1,500 Rohingya each week.
The statements said Bangladesh would set up five transit camps on its side of the border and the camps would send Rohingyas to two reception centres in Myanmar.
Myanmar said it would build a transit camp that could house 30,000 returnees.
The countries said in their statements that the process would begin next Tuesday.
“Myanmar has reiterated its commitment to stop (the) outflow of Myanmar residents to Bangladesh,” the Bangladesh statement said.
However, Myanmar officials said repatriation length will depend on how quickly Bangladesh can provide documentation of previous residency, under an initial agreement signed in November.
Many say Rohingya do not have evidence of their residency in Myanmar.
“Bangladesh authorities also need to proceed with the paperwork and documents for refugees and send it to us fast,” Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay said.
“Even though we are talking about a two-year process, it totally depends on how the countries cooperate.”
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has raised concerns about forcibly repatriating more than 650,000 Rohingya, who fled to Bangladesh following conflict in Rakhine state in 2016 and 2017.
The conflict resulted in around 650,000 people fleeing the violence.
“A huge effort of reconciliation is needed to allow it to take place properly,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.
“The worst would be to move these people from camps in Bangladesh to camps in Myanmar, keeping an artificial situation for a long time and not allowing for them to regain their normal lives.”
Myanmar has stressed the need to have preventative measures against more possible Rohingya attacks, giving Dhaka a list with the names of 1,000 militants.
The UNHCR said on Tuesday, the Rohingya should only return voluntarily when they feel safe to do so.
“Major challenges have to be overcome,” UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic said in Geneva.
“These include ensuring they are told about the situation in their areas of origin…and are consulted on their wishes, that their safety is ensured.”