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International relations

Myanmar's rush to resolve Rohingya crisis backfires

Logistics, security issues remain over return of refugees from Bangladesh

Rohingya refugees stand in a queue to collect aid supplies in Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazar on Jan. 21.   © Reuters

COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh -- The repatriation process for the estimated 650,000 or more Rohingya Muslims that have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh will not begin as planned on Tuesday, officials from both countries have confirmed, after the two sides failed to keep up with their rushed timeline for bringing the refugees home.

The Myanmar government is under pressure to take action on the Rohingya issue, with United Nations officials accusing the country of ethnic cleansing and the U.S. considering reinstating economic sanctions. But the countries were unable to compile and verify the list of refugees to be sent back by the target date, highlighting the challenges of repatriating the refugees. No new start date has been announced.

Abul Kalam, Bangladesh's refugee relief and rehabilitation commissioner, told The Nikkei Asian Review on Monday that his country had not yet handed Myanmar a list of potential returnees, but added that Myanmar does not seem ready to take back "any number of people at this moment."

Meanwhile, Myanmar government spokesperson Zaw Htay maintained that Bangladesh had failed to provide the returnees' names and documents, and that his country was ready to both repatriate the refugees and provide security for them.

Many Rohingya refuse to return home unless they are guaranteed citizenship and protection by Myanmar. The U.N. and human rights organizations had raised concerns over Myanmar's rush to resolve the crisis, since they would no longer be able to monitor the situation once the refugees cross the border back to their homes.

Still, Myanmar and Bangladesh had announced on Jan. 16 that the repatriation would start on Jan. 23, which is believed to have been the earliest date on which the two sides could agree. Myanmar pushed especially hard to start the process as soon as possible. Bangladesh, worried that the Rohingya refugees could settle in the country permanently, likely agreed even though it knew the targeted start date was unrealistic.

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