A Burmese government minister will visit Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh on Wednesday, officials said, a rare trip that Dhaka hopes will help speed the return home of hundreds of thousands of the neighbouring nation’s Muslim minority.
Burma’s panel of international advisers on Rohingya issues says the coming monsoon season could bring “enormous deaths” as refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh are not built to withstand the storms.
Officials and aid workers fear that the welcome is wearing thin for Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh since August, due to the unprecedented number of refugees and growing doubts over whether Burma will ever take them back.
Burma has bulldozed the remains of Rohingya Muslim villages to make way for refugee resettlement, not to destroy evidence of atrocities, an official leading reconstruction efforts in the troubled northern state of Rakhine said on Monday.
Bangladesh is racing to turn an uninhabited and muddy Bay of Bengal island into home for 100,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled a military crackdown in Burma, amid conflicting signals from top Bangladeshi officials about whether the refugees would end up being stranded there.
Representatives from Bangladesh and Burma will meet on Tuesday to discuss the repatriation to Burma of more than 6,500 Rohingya Muslims trapped on a strip of unclaimed land between the two countries, Bangladeshi officials said.
The United Nations on Wednesday called on Burma to give aid agencies unhindered access to camps it has built for tens of thousands of Muslim Rohingya refugees before they can return after fleeing Burmese military operations last year.
Bangladesh has delayed the repatriation of Rohingya Muslim refugees to Burma, set to start on Tuesday, because the process of compiling and verifying the list of people to be sent back is incomplete, a senior Bangladeshi official said.
Officials from Burma and Bangladesh meet on Monday to discuss how to implement a deal signed in November on the repatriation of more than 650,000 Rohingya who have fled Burma since late August. But many say fear returning.
Pope Francis described migrants and refugees as the world’s “weakest and most needy” on Monday, using his traditional New Year’s address to “give voice” to people he has urged leaders to do more to help.
Bangladesh approved a $280 million project on Tuesday to develop an isolated and flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal to temporarily house 100,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in neighbouring Burma.
Burma and Bangladesh have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) concerning the repatriation of more than 600,000 refugees from Rakhine State’s Rohingya Muslim community who have fled the state’s north en masse over recent months.
Many shops in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur are being used to send money to refugee camps in Bangladesh since a military crackdown in August prompted over 600,000 members of the Muslim minority group to flee Burma.
Burma and Bangladesh on Tuesday agreed to cooperate on the repatriation of Rohingya refugees and took steps to boost border security as relations between the neighbours have been strained by the continuing flow of refugees into Bangladesh.
The World Health Organization began distributing 900,000 doses of cholera vaccine on Tuesday in Bangladesh’s camps for Rohingya refugees fleeing from Burma, as authorities rush to prevent a major outbreak of the deadly disease.
Humanitarian organisations helping Rohingya Muslim refugees in Bangladesh said on Wednesday they need $434 million over the next six months to help up to 1.2 million people, most of them children, in dire need of life-saving assistance.
Bangladesh opens talks with neighbouring Burma on Monday with the aim of securing the return home of more than half a million Rohingya Muslim refugees from Burma, most of whom have arrived since late August.
The United States wants Burma to take urgent action to end violence in Arakan State, where a military offensive has created a crisis that could jeopardise its economic and political transition, a US official said on Friday.