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Myanmar building, but no sign of Rohingya returning

January 24, 2018
Myanmar workers dig a trench around structures just recently set up by Myanmar authorities in a field on the outskirts of Maungdaw in Rakhine state, Wednesday. The structures will be part of the Taung Pyo Letwe receiving center, which will help receive Rohingya refugees that fled to Bangladesh seeking refuge from violence last year and who are willing to return to Myanmar in the near future. — AFP
Myanmar workers dig a trench around structures just recently set up by Myanmar authorities in a field on the outskirts of Maungdaw in Rakhine state, Wednesday. The structures will be part of the Taung Pyo Letwe receiving center, which will help receive Rohingya refugees that fled to Bangladesh seeking refuge from violence last year and who are willing to return to Myanmar in the near future. — AFP

By Min Kyi Thein and Foster Klug

TAUNGPYO, Myanmar — Workers on the Myanmar side of the border with Bangladesh laid bricks, dug ditches and drilled holes in building frames in preparation Wednesday for the possible repatriation of some of the Rohingya Muslims who have poured into Bangladesh in what's become the world's worst refugee crisis.

There was no sign, however, of any of the nearly 700,000 Rohingya chased away by Myanmar security forces.

Myanmar invited journalists from The Associated Press and other media to the border to show it's ready for a gradual repatriation. But Bangladesh says it needs more time to prepare for the transfer.

The refugees, meanwhile, are deeply skeptical, if not outright terrified, about returning to a place where they say their homes were burned, their wives, sisters and mothers raped, and their friends, relatives and neighbors slaughtered.

This means that, despite the construction efforts on the Myanmar side of the border, no repatriation seems likely any time soon.

Myanmar officials and security forces stood near the barb-wired border fence at the transition camp, but Rohingya in Bangladesh said they've seen no major preparation for refugees to return safely to their destroyed homes in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine.

"Myanmar is just getting ready by itself, but we are not going unless there are promises made for us," Ko Ko Lin, a member of Arakan Rohingya National Organization, said by phone.

The two countries have agreed to a two-year repatriation process that was set to begin Tuesday. But officials in Bangladesh on Monday said a number of issues remained unresolved, in particular worries that refugees were being forced to return.

After documents and lists of people are exchanged between the two governments, the Myanmar government will then check the returnees to see if they are on the lists, said Ko Ko Thaw, a Myanmar immigration officer at the reception camp in the northern part of Rakhine. Only refugees with identity documents, which most Rohingya lack, will be allowed back into Myanmar.

In the sprawling camps that cover the hills south of Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, along the border with Myanmar, many Rohingya say they'll only to return to their obliterated villages if there's strong outside monitoring of their safety and living conditions.

"How can we go back to Myanmar without anyone guaranteeing our security," said Alam, a Rohingya in the Bulakhali refugee camp in Bangladesh, who, like many Rohingya, goes only by one name. "If we would be given homes in our villages that were burned, then we will go back." — AP


January 24, 2018
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