The repatriation of the Rohingyas back to Myanmar will start in two months and be completed in a “reasonable time”, a Bangladeshi minister has said.
The branch of the United Nations responsible for refugees will help with the return of the Muslim minority, according to Bangladesh foreign minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali.
Over 600,000 Rohingyas are in Bangladesh having sought sanctuary amid a military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
Mr Ali was speaking two days after the neighbouring countries signed an agreement to allow thousands of Muslims who fled their homes to be returned.
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A joint working group of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the two nations will be formed within three weeks and the group will fix the final terms to start the repatriation process, he added.
Mr Ali said: “Both countries agreed to take assistance from the UNHCR in the Rohingya repatriation process. Myanmar will take its assistance as per their requirement.
“Our priority is to ensure their safe return to their homeland with honour.”
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After they are returned to Rakhine, the Rohingyas will be kept at temporary camps near to their abandoned homes, Mr Ali said.
“Homes have been burnt to the ground in Rakhine, that need to be rebuilt. We have proposed Myanmar to take help from India and China for building camps for them,” he added.
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“Primarily they will be kept at temporary shelters or arrangements for a limited time.”
Under the deal struck on Thursday, Myanmar will take measures to see that those returned will not be settled in temporary places for a long period and they will be issued with identity cards.
What is not clear is how the Rohingyas will be persuaded to return, after widespread reports of rape, murder and the destruction of villages.
It comes as Pope Francis heads to both Myanmar and Bangladesh, where he faces calls to both use and avoid using the word ‘Rohingya’.
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Members of his own church have warned him against using the label – which is what Rohingya call themselves – because of fears it may anger some in mainly Buddhist Myanmar.
There are concerns it will lead to aggression against the country’s Christian minority, for showing support for Muslims.