Bangladesh and Myanmar have signed a deal for the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees, who have taken shelter in the border town of Cox’s Bazar after a brutal crackdown by the military.
Myanmar’s foreign ministry confirmed the signing of the agreement on Thursday, without releasing further details.
“We are ready to take them back as soon as possible after Bangladesh sends the forms back to us,” said Myint Kyaing, a permanent secretary at Myanmar’s immigration ministry, referring to registration forms the Rohingya must complete with personal details before repatriation.
Al Jazeera’s Scott Heidler, reporting from Yangon, said the deal was the result of international pressure on Myanmar, which has been mounting steadily.
“For Myanmar it’s very important because it is showing some progress on this Rohingya crisis,” Heidler said.
The agreement comes after Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi met with Bangladesh’s foreign minister to resolve one of the biggest refugee crisis of modern times.
More than 620,000 people have poured into Bangladesh since August, running from a Myanmar military crackdown that the US said this week clearly constitutes “ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya”.
The talks between Suu Kyi and her Bangladeshi counterpart come ahead of a highly anticipated visit to both nations by Pope Francis, who has been outspoken about his sympathy for the plight of the Rohingya.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which denies committing atrocities against the Muslim minority, has agreed to work with Bangladesh to repatriate some of the Rohingya piling into desperately overstretched refugee camps.
But the neighbours have struggled to settle on the details, including how many Rohingya will be allowed back in violence-scorched Rakhine, where hundreds of villages have been burnt.
Last week Myanmar’s military chief Min Aung Hlaing said it was “impossible to accept the number of persons proposed by Bangladesh”.
Rendered stateless Rohingya have been the target of communal violence and vicious anti-Muslim sentiment for years.
They have also been systematically oppressed by the government, which stripped the minority of citizenship and severely restricts their movement, as well as their access to basic services.
The latest crisis erupted after Rohingya rebels attacked police posts on August 25.
The army backlash rained violence across northern Rakhine, with refugees recounting nightmarish scenes of soldiers and Buddhist mobs slaughtering villagers and burning down entire communities.
The military denies all allegations but has restricted access to the conflict zone.
Suu Kyi’s government has also vowed to deny visas to a UN-fact finding mission tasked with probing accusations of military abuse.
Source: News agencies