EFETeknaf, Bangladesh

A second attempt to repatriate some 1,037 Rohingya refugee families who live in Bangladesh following a mass exodus from Myanmar's Rakhine province, has failed, Bangladeshi authorities said Thursday.

None of the 295 Rohingya families that were consulted have agreed to return to Myanmar.

Authorities have not ruled out the possibility that some of them might change their mind in the next few days.

"Till now, from the families interviewed we did not get anyone (willing to go back).

"But we hope, people can change their mind any time," Abul Kalam Azad, Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commissioner of Bangladesh, said at a press conference on Camp 26, the refugee camp nearest to the Myanmar border in Teknaf in southeast Bangladesh.

Kalam said authorities had arranged five buses, two trucks and ten microbuses that had been on standby from 9 am to resume the repatriation process after the first attempt to send refugees back failed in November 2018.

The repatriation comes three days ahead of the second anniversary of the Myanmar army crackdown which took place on 25 August 2017 and that spurred the diaspora of 740,000 Rohingyas across the border where they have since languished in sprawling refugee camps.

"We are waiting from 9 am with all the logistic arrangements," Mohammad Khaled Hossain, the official in charge of Camp 26 said.

"If someone comes voluntarily, we will take him for repatriation," Hossain he added.

Authorities waited until 4 pm, but no refugee agreed to be repatriated, after which the day's work was concluded.

The interviews are being conducted by the United Nations' refugee agency (UNHCR) along with Bangladeshi officials.

One Rohingya who was interviewed at Camp 26 on Thursday was Nur Hossain, a 41-year-old driver who fled Myanmar when the military attacks began.

Hossain told EFE he would not return to Myanmar with the eight members of his family, including six daughters and a son, until a series of demands are met.

"We need to be given the Rohingya card, our safety has to be ensured and Myanmar must release people they are holding in IDP (internally displaced person) camps," he said.

When they guarantee these requests, "it will make me believe they will not restrict my freedom once I go back," he added.

The Myanmar government has said it will provide "National Verification Cards" to Rohingyas that guarantee their residency but not their citizenship. This is one of the main demands of the community.

By Thursday 295 Rohingya families had been consulted.

However, Kalam said the interview process "will continue until we complete the interview of (all) 1037 families" which feature on a list approved by Myanmar authorities, even if it takes days to complete.

"There is no scope of saying it is Bangladesh’s failure because this is not our problem.

"This is a problem between Myanmar and this population group.

"We are not a direct party to this.

"We believe anytime there could be a breakthrough," the commissioner added.

Hafez Shaidullah, a Rohingya leader and activist, told EFE that even though Rohingyas were happy that the Myanmar government wanted to take them back, they had "at least five demands that needed to be fulfilled" before agreeing to be repatriated.

These include the distribution of citizenship cards that recognize Rohingya ethnicity; ensuring safety through the presence of international forces; a return to the original lands which the refugees possessed before fleeing; compensation for the losses incurred; and the destruction of the internment camps which Myanmar has built to contain the refugees.

Shahidullah, leader of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace & Human Rights, said the community was "upset" that no Rohingyas had been consulted before the current repatriation attempt.

"There will be no repatriation without talking to us," he said.

The mass exodus of the Rohingyas began two years ago when a rebel group carried out a series of attacks against security posts in the western Rakhine province which led to a disproportionate crackdown from the Myanmar military against the ethnic group.

Around 738,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh and have remained in refugee camps since then.

The military campaign, which has faced allegations of mass killings and rapes, has been described by United Nations observers as ethnic cleansing and possible genocide.