More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees who fled violence in Myanmar in 2017 now live in camps near Cox's Bazar in southern Bangladesh. The Bangladesh government wants to move some to a new location. Photo: AFP/Masfiqur Sohan

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been working with the Bangladesh government to verify the identities of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine State and issue ID cards for them, according to the Bangladesh Chronicle.

The paper quotes Kevin J. Allen, the head of operations for the UNHCR in the Cox’s Bazar area where hundreds of thousands of refugees are staying, as saying that “this exercise is a major step forward to establish the legal identity of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.”

All refugees above the age of 12 will get ID cards after their identities have been verified, he said. The cards will carry the logos of the UNHCR and the Bangladesh government and will state: “This person should be protected from forcible return to a country where he/she would face threats to his/her life and freedom.”

The cards will list the refugees’ country of origin as Myanmar. According to the UNHCR, the process will play an important role in verifying the identity of the refugees and enabling them their right to voluntary return to Myanmar when it is safe for them to do so. The verification is expected to last six months and use biometric data, including iris scans and finger prints.

Last November, the Bangladesh and Myanmar governments signed an agreement paving the way for voluntary repatriation of the refugees. It was supposed to start by Jan. 22 and in February, Bangladesh presented a list of 8,032 refugees for verification by Myanmar.

The Myanmar government has built a center on its side of the border, where repatriated refugees would be housed. But so far, no refugees have been repatriated. The Myanmar government does not recognize the Rohingya as citizens and consider most of them illegal migrants from Bangladesh who have been pushed back to their “home country” across the border.

The new ID cards are unlikely to make the Myanmar government change its mind. In fact, the move could also make it more difficult for the refugees to settle in Bangladesh, a likely option for many of them, as the ID cards will state that their country of origin is Myanmar.