Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed on Monday to set up a “working group” to plan the repatriation of more than half a million Rohingya Muslim refugees who have fled to Bangladesh to escape an army crackdown, the Bangladeshi foreign minister said.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali said he and Myanmar official Kyaw Tint Swe had agreed in their talks to set up the working group to draw up plans for repatriation. Kyaw Tin Swe is the incumbent Minister for the Office of the State Counsellor of Myanmar (Aung San Suu Kyi).
“We are looking forward to a peaceful solution to the crisis,” Ali told reporters.
Kyaw Tint Swe did not speak to the media and government spokesmen in Myanmar were not immediately available for comment.
The neighbors have agreed on repatriation plans before, but the fundamental problem – the status of Rohingya in Myanmar – remains unsettled.
The Rohingya are denied citizenship and classified as illegal immigrants, despite claiming roots in Myanmar that go back centuries, with communities marginalized and subjected to bouts of communal violence over the years.
Ali, asked about agreements in the past having little impact, said: ”This time we want to be hopeful.”
In Geneva, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told a meeting problems of statelessness had to be tackled.
“Nowhere is the link between statelessness and displacement more evident than with the Rohingya community,” he said.
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The crisis over the treatment of the Rohingya is the biggest problem Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has had to face since forming a government last year after winning a landmark 2015 election.
The Nobel peace laureate, in an address to the nation last month, said Myanmar was ready to start a verification process under a 1993 agreement with Bangladesh and “refugees from this country will be accepted without any problem”.
But many refugees are gloomy about the prospects of going back, fearing they will not be able to furnish the documents they anticipate Myanmar will demand to prove they have a right to return.
Myanmar has refused to grant access to a U.N. fact-finding mission but Suu Kyi last year appointed a team led by former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan to draw up recommendations on solving problems in Rakhine.
The commission presented its recommendations on Aug. 24, a day before the insurgent attacks, among them a review of a law that links citizenship and ethnicity and leaves most Rohingya stateless.
The panel also recommended that the government punish rights violations, ensure the right to freedom of movement and invest in infrastructure to lift the state out of poverty.
Suu Kyi, in her address to the nation last month, said she was committed to the recommendations.