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    Rohingya repatriation delayed by Bangladeshi officials just hours before it was due to begin

    Photo: Reuters

    By Liam Cochrane /  ABC News

    Bangladesh has blamed logistics for a delay in returning some of the 680,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled across the border to escape violence in Myanmar.

    Today was supposed to be the start of the Rohingya repatriation, but with just hours to go, Bangladesh announced the delay, with the refugee relief and rehabilitation commissioner Abul Kalam saying “there are many things remaining”.

    “The list of people to be sent back is yet to be prepared, their verification and setting up of transit camps is remaining,” he said.

    Investigation and advocacy group Fortify Rights welcomed the move, saying it was far too soon to send vulnerable people back to Myanmar, but said “it’s been delayed for the wrong reasons”.

    “The authorities in Bangladesh right now are saying that it’s been delayed essentially for logistical reasons, not for reasons of insecurity or human rights violations that are still ongoing in Rakhine State,” Fortify Rights’ Matthew Smith said.

    Mr Smith said many Rohingyas would have nowhere to live.

    “Their physical villages have been razed for the most part, I mean we’re talking several hundred villages throughout northern Rakhine State have been burned to the ground over the last year,” he said.

    “So in those cases, people are going back to heaps of ashes or villages that have already been bulldozed.”

    The bulldozers were also at work at the site of at least one transit camp in Myanmar.

    Officials insisted the camp was ready to accept the Rohingyas, but footage shot by local journalists on a government-arranged tour of the site suggested otherwise.

    It showed a huge dusty field with a handful of surveyors and diggers, a few large white tents labelled for workers — but no other accommodation, toilets, drinking water or health care infrastructure could be seen in the clip.

    Mr Smith said even if the camps were built, the apartheid system the Rohingyas fled remained in place.

    “Well, we would expect they would go back to a situation of confinement … deny freedom of movement to all Rohingya … including 120,000 in internment camps … transit sites,” Mr Smith said.

    The United Nations refugee agency is stressing that Rohingyas should only go back to Myanmar voluntarily, and only if their rights and basic safety can be protected.

    When the repatriation plan was announced in November, a survey found 89 per cent of Rohingyas did not want to go back.

    One Rohingya woman told the ABC: “You can throw us into the sea, but please don’t send us back … we will not go back to Myanmar.”