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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - DHAKA: The first group of Rohingya refugees left Bangladesh for the US on Thursday, in a move seen as paving the way for further resettlement of members of the persecuted community to third countries.
Although Bangladesh is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, it has been hosting and providing humanitarian support to 1.2 million Rohingya Muslims, most of whom fled Rakhine State in neighboring Myanmar during a military crackdown in 2017.
A majority live in squalid camps in Cox’s Bazar district, a coastal region in the country’s southeast and the world’s largest refugee settlement.
Despite multiple attempts from Bangladesh, a UN-backed repatriation and resettlement process was failing to take off for the past few years, and only individual relocations have taken place in extraordinary cases.
At the same time, pressure on the South Asian nation has been increasing, as hosting the Rohingya refugees costs Bangladesh an estimated $1.2 billion a year, multiplying the challenges the developing country battered by the COVID-19 pandemic is already facing.
While the security situation in the military junta-led Myanmar does not allow for the repatriation to begin, a deal to start the relocation process was recently reached by Bangladeshi and US authorities.
Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister A. K. Abdul Momen told reporters earlier this week that he had requested the US to receive 100,000 Rohingya, while similar petitions have been made with the government of the UK and Japan.
“In the first batch, 62 Rohingyas will be taken by the USA government,” he said. “It’s expected that every year 300 to 800 Rohingyas will be relocated to the USA.”
So far, 24 refugees have boarded a flight to their new home.
“As a part of the relocation to the USA, the first batch of 24 Rohingyas left Bangladesh on Thursday,” Mainul Kabir, director general of the Myanmar wing of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirmed to Arab News.
“The date of the next batch is yet to be determined as it involves the other parties also — the US embassy and International Organization for Migration.”
While the number of resettled refugees is not significant, it is seen as the first step to formalize their transfer from Bangladesh to places where they would be granted not only permanent residence, but also the right to employment and access to formal education.
“Although the number of relocated Rohingyas is very low, it has a token value. If these Rohingyas can be resettled in any third country, it’s good. The big thing is that the process began,” Mohammad Nur Khan, renowned Bangladeshi rights activist and migration expert, told Arab News.
“We have been talking quite long about the resettlement of the Rohingyas to third countries. In reality, the situation in Myanmar doesn’t seem to allow these Rohingyas to be repatriated with dignity any time soon. In this context, relocation to any third country can be a good solution, whatever the number is.”
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