YANGON, Sept 28, (AFP): Myanmar is poised to begin “verifying” how many of the near half a million Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh it will take back, the Ministry of Information said Thursday, naming land and sea points in restive Rakhine state for their return. Some 480,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Rakhine to Bangladesh since Aug 25, when militant attacks on sparked an army campaign that the UN says was tantamount to “ethnic cleansing”.
The new arrivals are living in increasingly desperate conditions in over-crowded rain-battered camps, reliant on a trickle of aid. Bangladesh, which already hosted hundreds of thousands of Rohingya before the latest crisis, has led the global chorus calling on Myanmar to take back the Rohingya and guarantee their safety. But it is unclear how many Rohingya, who numbered around one million in Myanmar before August 25, will be eligible for return to a country that does not recognise them as citizens.
Many others are unwilling to move back to charred villages and communities cut by communal hate in Rakhine. Last week Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi said her country will repatriate those who meet a strict criteria set between the two countries in 1993, when tens of thousands of Rohingya were repatriated having fled Myanmar authorities.
Verification will be carried out “soon” on Myanmar soil at two border points, the Ministry of Information said in a Facebook statement. They will be checked at “Taungpyo Latwe village for those who return by road and at Naguya Village for those who return by water,” it said, quoting Win Myat Aye, Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement. “After the verification process, the refugees will be settled at Dargyizar village,” he was quoted as saying. Dargyizar village is in an area of Maungdaw hit hard by the recent communal violence, that saw hundreds killed and gutted countless Rohingya villages.
Meanwhile, Battered by global outrage over an army crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, Myanmar has found comfort in an old friend — China, an Asian superpower whose unflinching support is tied to the billions it has lavished on ports, gas and oil in violence-hit Rakhine state. China — which is expected to speak later Thursday at a UN Security Council meeting on the crisis — has fallen out of step with much of the world in condemning the army-led crackdown.
“We think the international community should support the efforts of Myanmar in safeguarding the stability of its national development,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said earlier this month. That support was far from unexpected from an ally who ploughed cash into Myanmar even as its economy choked under a half century of military rule and US sanctions. Most of those sanctions were rolled back in 2014 as a reward for democratic elections.