Kingdom supports efforts to safely repatriate Rohingya from Bangladesh: Saudi envoy

Saudi Arabia supports efforts to safely repatriate Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, the Kingdom’s ambassador to Dhaka has said, as Bangladeshi authorities highlighted continuous Saudi assistance at refugee camps, Arab News reports.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees fled persecution in Myanmar in 2017, with most seeking shelter in neighboring Bangladesh.

A majority of about 1.2 million refugees live in squalid camps in Cox’s Bazar district, a coastal region in the country’s southeast, which, with the influx of Rohingya, has become the world’s largest refugee settlement.

Their return to Myanmar has been on the agenda for years, but a UN-backed repatriation process has not taken off until now, despite pressure from Bangladesh amid dwindling international support to host the large community.

Since March, repatriation has been negotiated between Bangladesh and Myanmar under a pilot scheme mediated by China. Despite several visits and compiling data of an initial 1,000 Rohingya willing to return, it remains unclear when the process will begin.

“Saudi Arabia is supporting the international efforts (for) a safe repatriation for the Rohingya people and appreciates the stand of Bangladesh to accommodate more than 1.2 million Rohingyas here,” Saudi Ambassador to Bangladesh Essa Al-Duhailan told reporters earlier this week.

“I hope that the first group, that will be (in the) pilot for repatriation, inshallah, will go smoothly and safely. And this, inshallah, will be the beginning of repatriating all the Rohingya to their homeland in Myanmar safely.”

Bangladesh has been providing humanitarian support to the Rohingya despite not being a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. Saudi Arabia has been one of the key international donors supporting these efforts, especially as others have decreased their aid.

Increasing crime, harsh living conditions, and no immediate prospects of returning to Myanmar are driving more Rohingya refugees to leave Bangladesh by boat for countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, putting their lives at risk. A few hundred of them are thought to have died at sea last year, according to UN data.

The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center has been supporting Rohingya refugees since the very beginning of the 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar, which triggered their exodus to Bangladesh.

Much of the aid comes in the form of emergency, primary and secondary health care, as well as obstetric services, which KSrelief has already directly provided to tens of thousands of Rohingya refugee children and mothers, as the situation in the overpopulated camps deteriorates.

“Saudi presence in the Rohingya camps is very significant. They do relief work here in collaboration with local NGOs,” Mizanur Rahman, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner in Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News.

“Saudi Arabia is helping here in building shelters for distressed Rohingya and provides food support. Saudi aid has definitely been very important for humanitarian operations in the Rohingya camps.”

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