A Myanmar government team visited Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh on Thursday as part of a mooted pilot repatriation scheme.
Most of the refugees have been stuck in ramshackle camps in southeastern Bangladesh since fleeing a 2017 crackdown by the Myanmar military that is now subject to a United Nations genocide investigation.
Several previous repatriation attempts have failed but Bangladesh and Myanmar are looking to return around 1,100 people to the violence-racked state of Rakhine in the coming weeks.
Twenty Rohingya visited two resettlement camps this month in Rakhine, where the Myanmar junta plans to house them in what experts say is land that for generations belonged to the Rohingyas before being confiscated.
The team of 14 Myanmar officials, all in civilian clothes, arrived by boat in the Bangladeshi border town of Teknaf on Thursday morning, went to the camps, and talked to around 200 people.
But Mohammad Selim, one of the Rohingya who met the Myanmar delegation, told AFP by phone that their demands were being ignored.
“We said that we have to return to our own ancestral house… We told them they should give us citizenship. But they said they will give us NVC (national verification card), which is not citizenship,” Selim said.
“They repeatedly said so. There is no way we can trust them.”
“We have no permanent representative in this repatriation process,” Khin Maung, a prominent Rohingya leader, told AFP before the meeting.
“This repatriation process is just an eyewash. If they didn’t ensure our dignity, there is no point returning to IDPs (internally displaced people),” he said.
One Rohingya who is meant to be repatriated in the pilot project told AFP on condition of anonymity that they did not want to go back and live in Myanmar “as non-citizens and stay in IDP camps”.
“Our place should be given back to us, our right to live like other ethnic groups should be legally guaranteed. Otherwise, we cannot believe the mass murderers,” they said.
Mainul Kabir, head of the Rohingya wing in Bangladesh’s foreign ministry, told reporters Thursday that repatriation was “the only way to solve the Rohingya issue”.
He said the Myanmar delegation “assured that the confusions that are being created will be resolved gradually”.
Last week, Human Rights Watch criticized the repatriation plan, saying it posed “grave risks” to the Rohingya.
“Bangladesh is frustrated with its burden as host, but sending refugees back to the control of a ruthless Myanmar junta will just be setting the stage for the next devastating exodus,” the group said in a statement.