Page last updated at 13:39 GMT, Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Bangladesh to send home thousands of Burmese refugees

Unofficial refugee camp in south-east Bangladesh
Rights groups say Rohingya Muslims have fled religious persecution

Burma has agreed to repatriate 9,000 Rohingya Muslims from Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi government has said.

Foreign Secretary Mohamed Mijarul Quayes made the announcement in Dhaka after meeting his Burmese counterpart, who is on a two-day official visit.

The bilateral is also expected to cover trade deals and maritime boundaries.

Human rights groups say Rohingya Muslims have fled religious persecution in Burma and do not want to return to their home country.

Unofficial refugee camp in south-east Bangladesh
Many refugees lack adequate food and sanitation

Many are said to have nowhere to live and suffer "dire conditions".

Burma has assured Bangladesh it will begin the process of repatriation "as soon as possible", Mr Quayes said, after meeting Maung Myint, Burma's foreign minister.

He said Bangladesh had handed over a list of 28,000 Rohingyas to Burma, which had accepted that 9,000 people on the list were its citizens.

Dhaka says there are nearly 30,000 Rohingyas in two official camps in south-eastern Bangladesh, and another 300,000 living illegally elsewhere.

Correspondents say Tuesday's announcement offers a partial solution to a problem that dates back 30 years.

Rohingyas began fleeing Burma in the late 1970s, although the biggest influx was in 1992 when an estimated 250,000 fled to Bangladesh.

Human rights groups say the Burmese junta discriminates against the Rohingyas' Islamic faith, depriving them of free movement, education and employment.

Earlier this year Rohingya refugees tried to escape Burma to other Asian countries, including Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

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