By Sorwar Alam
A Rohingya representative voiced concerns over ongoing registration process of the refugees in the camps in southeastern Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh.
The concerns came several days after Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed on a proposal to coordinate the repatriation of Rohingya refugees.
“Any error in personal data during the registration of Rohingya would be fatal and strategic mistake that could endanger the return of more than half million refugees to their homeland in Myanmar,” said Muhammed Ayub, an IT expert and a Rohingya representative in the United Arab Emirates.
According to UN, a total of 515,000 Rohingya Muslims have arrived Bangladesh since the recent military crackdown in the Rakhine state of Myanmar following a series of militant attacks on the police posts on Aug. 25.
The refugees are fleeing a military operation in which security forces and Buddhist mobs have killed men, women and children, looted homes and torched Rohingya villages. According to Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hasan Mahmood Ali, around 3,000 Rohingya have been killed in the crackdown.
Ayub applauded Bangladesh authorities’ decision to allow Rohingya to enter the country and give them all possible support as well as a temporary registration card.
Government of Bangladesh, which has already been hosting around 400,000 Rohingya since the 1990s, started the registration process on Sept. 11 and provided them biometric card as they do not have any legal documents from the government of Myanmar.
Ayub warned that the documents could be crucial during the repatriation process. He claimed that there were some “errors in personal data collection and entry details”.
“The personal details and format of writing addresses in the registration cards are not suitable with that in Myanmar,” he told Anadolu agency.
“In Bangladesh, address is described in following order: Name, Village Name, Post Office, Police Station, District. While in Myanmar, address is written as an order of Name, Village/ward Name, Village Track Name, Township, District.”
He noted the registration with correct personal details was “strategically important” because this would be the sole document of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya during the verification process.
According to Myanmar authorities, only “verified” Rohingya would be allowed to return to their country though the details of the verification and repatriation process still an issue of huge negotiation between Dhaka and Yangon.
Some recent registration cards provided by the Bangladesh authorities show the addresses written on the cards do not match the original address.
This could be happened because of “the volunteers at the point of registration are Bengali and they have no idea of Myanmar’s official system,” said Ayub.
He also outlined that the errors in descriptions of personal details “would cause unnecessary hassle, delay, and chaos during repatriation”.
“Most importantly, the Myanmar authorities would argue that the particular refugee is not of Myanmar origin if any mistake is made in describing personal details accurately. This has happened before,” he said.
A Bangladesh official dealing with the registration process accepted that there “could be minor errors” and added they have shown the maximum care during the registration process.
“We have been verifying their information, address through volunteers from the Rohingya community who know the Rohingya language,” said Lieutenant Colonel A.T.M Mostafa Kamal, deputy director of the project.
He noted that around 100,000 refugees have already been registered and hoped “we can complete this registration process very soon”.
On the question whether these cards would be used during repatriation process of Rohingya, he said “May be or may not be, higher authorities will make decision in this regard”.
Moreover, Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) accused Myanmar's authorities of not allowing humanitarian organizations to enter in Rakhine, where vulnerable civilians remained stranded without necessary support.
“The Norwegian Refugee Council is standing by, waiting for the authorities to allow us to move into areas where we fear many people may be stranded without clean water, food, or shelter,” said Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the NRC, on Friday.
The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.
Last October, following attacks on border posts in Rakhine's Maungdaw district, security forces launched a five-month crackdown in which, according to Rohingya groups, around 400 people were killed.
The UN documented mass gang rapes, killings -- including of infants and young children -- brutal beatings, and disappearances committed by security personnel. In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.
*Mutasim Billah contributed to the story from Dhaka, Bangladesh