Myanmar, Bangladesh reach two-year deal to repatriate Rohingya refugees

Rohingya Muslim refugees wait for food aid at Thankhali refugee camp in Bangladesh's Ukhia district on January 12. Photograph:( AFP )

WION Web Team Yangon, Myanmar Jan 16, 2018, 08.10 AM (IST)

Myanmar and Bangladesh have reached a deal to repatriate Rohingya displaced by an army crackdown "within two years", Dhaka said Tuesday.

According to a statement from the Bangladeshi government following talks in Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw, the agreement between the two countries states that the process will be "completed preferably within 02 (two) years from the commencement of repatriation".

This is the first clear timeline for a return of hundreds of thousands of refugees.

"During this two-day meeting, we agreed on the form that refugees will have to fill to be able to come back to Myanmar," Mohammad Sufiur Rahman, Bangladesh ambassador in Myanmar told AFP. 

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"We should be able to start the process in the coming days," he said, but added Myanmar's stated deadline of next week for starting Rohingya repatriation was "not possible".

The deal applies to Rohingya who fled Myanmar in two major outbreaks of violence since October 2016, when militants from the stateless Muslim minority first attacked border-guard posts in northern Rakhine state.

It does not cover Rohingya refugees who were living in Bangladesh prior to that date who the UN estimates number at 200,000.

In November, the two countries reached a pact paving the way for repatriations from January 23. The deadline is likely to slip given the logistical challenges of the cross-border operation.

Myanmar has faced intense diplomatic pressure to allow the safe return of Rohingya refugees driven out by its army.

But many Rohingya in crowded camps in Bangladesh say they are reluctant to return to Rakhine state having fled atrocities including murder, rape and arson attacks on their homes.

Story highlights

The agreement between the two countries states that the process will be 'completed preferably within 02 (two) years from the commencement of repatriation'