DHAKA — Bangladesh's plans to repatriate 9,000 Myanmar Muslim refugees to their homeland hit trouble on Wednesday when a leader of the minority said they would refuse to leave.
Bangladesh's top foreign ministry official, Mirajul Quayes, said Tuesday that neighbouring Myanmar had agreed to take back 9,000 Rohingya refugees in what was seen as a breakthrough in a decade-long problem.
Quayes, the foreign secretary, said during talks with Myanmar deputy foreign minister Maung Myint in Dhaka that the military regime had agreed to accept nearly one-third of the officially recognised refugees now in Bangladesh.
Jalal Uddin, who is the secretary of the UN-recognised Kutupalong camp, said Rohingya refugees "are always ready to go back home" but stressed that rights as Myanmar citizens could not be guaranteed.
"(But) we don't have any rights in Myanmar," he told AFP by phone. "If we go back, the armed forces will use us as bonded labour.
"Many will be sent to jail. There are still curbs on practising our religion or movement from one place to another without the army's permission."
Described by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities, some 250,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh in the early 1990s. But some 230,000 were later taken back by Myanmar following a UN-brokered deal.
Since then, thousands of Rohingyas from Buddhist-majority Myanmar's northern Rakhaine state have streamed across the border every year and are now estimated to number nearly 400,000.
But only 28,000 of them have been granted official refugee status and are allowed to stay in two UN-assisted camps in the country's Cox's Bazar district just miles (kilometres) across the Myanmar border.
"Some 9,000, are ready to be repatriated following verification, as the Myanmar government has assured us today that they are also ready. And it can begin within the shortest possible time," Quayes said Tuesday.
Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Dipu Moni last August said the undocumented refugees put a "heavy burden" on Dhaka, causing major social, economic problems.
Quayes expressed his concern about the increased influx of Rohingyas in recent months and urged Myanmar to take them back. "We've pressed the Myanmar government to take steps to get them back," he said.
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