The United Nations and the Bangladesh government have started formally registering hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who have fled a military crackdown in Myanmar, a move that officials say would help their eventual return.
More than 700,000 mostly Muslim Rohingya have escaped Buddhist-majority Myanmar since August, when attacks by Muslim insurgents triggered a military offensive that the United Nations has likened to ethnic cleansing. Myanmar denies the accusations and has said it waged a legitimate counter-insurgency operation.
The registration program started jointly by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Bangladesh government this week is aimed at creating a reliable database of refugees living in camps on Bangladesh’s southern coast, said Caroline Gluck, a UNHCR representative.
That data, expected to be ready by November, will have family and birth details of refugees, and will be shared with Myanmar, said Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner.
“This will aid the repatriation process,” Kalam said, stressing that any returns would be safe and voluntary.
Dozens of refugees queued up at a UNHCR office at the Nayapara camp, which overlooks the Myanmar border, providing fingerprints, iris scans and other information to officials.
The white registration cards refugees are being given have the logo of both the UNHCR and the Bangladesh government, and state: “This person should be protected from forcible return to a country where he/she would face threats to his/her life or freedom.”
They list the refugees’ origin country as Myanmar.
Many refugees have reported killings, arson and rape by Myanmar security forces and Buddhist vigilantes, and say they will not return unless they are granted citizenship in Myanmar.
The UNHCR said last month conditions were not yet safe for Rohingya to return.