Myanmar said on Friday it was prepared for Bangladesh to repatriate more than 3,600 Rohingya refugees who fled violence in the western state of Rakhine two years ago after a military-led crackdown against the Muslim minority.
The director-general of the international organization and economic department at Myanmar's foreign ministry, U Chan Aye, told EFE that his country was ready to start the process next Thursday, Aug. 22, but was waiting for the Bangladeshi side to confirm the date.
"If the process goes well, we will start with over 3,600 people," he said.
The move comes a year and a half after a major repatriation attempt floundered when refugees refused to return to the country they had fled amid fears of more violence.
The Rohingya mass exodus began on Aug. 25, 2017, when Myanmar's army launched an offensive in Rakhine state – which borders Bangladesh – with the purported aim of suppressing Rohingya insurgents.
The minority group is not recognized by authorities in Nay Pyi Taw, who consider them to be Bangladeshi immigrants, and they therefore lack any pathway to Myanmarese citizenship despite having been present in the country for centuries.
The Rohingya people have also been subjected to widespread discrimination over the past decades by Buddhist nationalists who view the predominantly-Muslim group with mistrust.
Since the 2017 crackdown, almost a million Rohingya refugees – most of them women and children – languish amid poor sanitary conditions within sprawling refugee camps in the eastern Bangladeshi coastal city of Cox's Bazaar.
The Australian Strategic Policy Institute in July denounced Myanmar's "minimal preparation" for the return of Rohingya refugees through an analysis of satellite images of the region.
According to the ASPI, some 320 out of the 392 Rohingya villages that were razed to the ground during the 2017 military operation show no signs of reconstruction.
United Nations observers have described the army crackdown as "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing" and "possible genocide" and underlined the need for a return process that is safe, dignified and voluntary.
Meanwhile, another 125,000 Rohingya still live in segregated conditions as internally-displaced persons within Rakhine since an outburst of religious violence in 2012. EFE-EPA