There is intensive effort to begin Rohingya repatriation, at least completion of the first batch of verified Rohingya repatriation before the next national election.
Though Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed to begin the repatriation of the first batch of Rohingyas by mid-November, the process still looks complex and difficult.
“We’re looking forward to starting the repatriation by mid-November. This is the first batch,” said Foreign Secretary M Shahidul Haque without giving any specific number of Rohingyas to be repatriated in the first batch.
Foreign Secretary Haque made the announcement after the third Joint Working Group (JWG) meeting on the repatriation of verified Rohingyas that held at State guesthouse Meghna in Dhaka on October 30.
The joint working group members from both sides visited Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar on October 31 and had interactions with Rohingyas.
The third foreign secretary-level JWG meeting was co-chaired by Permanent Secretary Myint Thu of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar and his Bangladesh counterpart Senior Secretary M Shahidul Haque of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Myanmar Permanent Secretary Myint Thu said they had a very friendly and candid meeting and came up with the “very concrete results” on the commencement of the repatriation.
“We’ve shown our political will, flexibility, and accommodation in order to commence the repatriation at the earliest possible dates,” he said.
Responding to a question, the Myanmar official said they have streamlined lots of local directives in order to promote awareness on repatriation among the returnees.
“We’re also promoting public policy which includes police personnel together with the local communities to maintain and promote law and order,” he said adding that they are also promoting awareness on the fundamental principles so that people can get access to justice system if they encounter any issue.
“We’ve put in place a number of measures to make sure there’s secure environment for their return,” said the Myanmar secretary.
Foreign Secretary Haque termed the meeting very productive and constructive and special focus was given on the return of Rohingyas.
As per Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s directives, Bangladesh is giving priority to resolve the Rohingya issue through peaceful discussions between the two countries.
“We’re heading towards that end. Much success has been achieved,” said the Bangladesh Foreign Secretary.
He said they always say the return of Rohingyas is a complex and difficult process and if both sides have political will it’s possible to bring the issue to a fruitful end. “Throughout the discussion, we felt that both sides have strong political will (to start the repatriation).”
Both sides discussed the Rohingya repatriation issue in details as there are “intensive efforts” to begin the repatriation.
Bangladesh sought updates on what steps would be taken for the safe and sustainable return of Rohingyas to their homeland Myanmar from Bangladesh.
“We’ve completed the village-wise verification of 8,000 Rohingyas to know who came from which village. We want to make sure they can start living in houses in their own villages,” said Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali on October 15.
The Foreign Minister mentioned that India has built 250 houses while China is building 1,000 more. “The returnees will first stay at reception centres in Myanmar and then will go to their villages.”
Chinese Minister and Party Committee Secretary of the Ministry of Public Security Zhao Kezhi and his Bangladesh counterpart also discussed the Rohingya issue on October 26.
The Bangladesh side sought China’s role in repatriating Rohingya people from Bangladesh to their homes in Myanmar.
“There’ll be a tripartite meeting among Bangladesh Foreign Minister (AH Mahmood Ali) and his Chinese and Myanmar counterparts where they will discuss the issue further,” said Minister Asaduzzaman Khan. But the Home Minister did not elaborate when and where this meeting will be held.
Similar meetings were held in New York and Beijing on the sidelines in the past months that indicate pressure on Myanmar is mounting.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the 73rd UN General Assembly made three recommendations for solving the Rohingya crisis at its root, including the abolition of discriminatory laws, policies and practices of Myanmar against the minority group.
According to her second recommendation, Myanmar must create an acceptable environment by building trust and guaranteeing protection, rights and pathway to citizenship for all Rohingyas. If needed, it should create a “safe zone” inside the country to protect all civilians.
Her third recommendation says atrocious crimes against Rohingyas in Myanmar should be prevented by bringing accountability and justice, particularly in the light of recommendations of the Fact-Finding Mission of the UN Human Rights Council.
Foreign Minister Ali has emphasised the need for accelerating efforts to create a conducive environment in northern Rakhine State and build houses and villages for returnees to facilitate repatriation.
Minister Ali along with joint working group members in August this year visited the northern Rakhine State and saw the ‘trail of widespread devastation’ suffered by people there, said the Foreign Ministry officials.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister also visited Shwe Zar village where around 148 prefabricated houses for returnees are being built with assistance from the government of India.
In May, the Myanmar side urged the Bangladesh side to start the repatriation of the earlier verified 778 Muslims and 444 Hindus.
Bangladesh and Myanmar formed the Joint Working Group (JWG) on December 2017 to start repatriating Rohingya refugees by January 23, 2018.
Meanwhile, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) Chairperson Charles Santiago (MP, Malaysia) said the Rohingya community has suffered decades of state-sponsored oppression, discrimination, and violence in Myanmar.
“It’s abundantly clear that the conditions for the Rohingyas’ safe and dignified return to their homeland are far from being met. Any initiatives to return the refugees to Myanmar must be transparent and meet international human rights standards,” Santiago said in a statement recently.
There has been an announcement that a team of ASEAN foreign ministers will visit Myanmar in November to assist in the repatriation process of Rohingya in Bangladesh to Myanmar:
Santiago said the Rohingya have suffered unspeakable abuses and must have a seat at the table to determine their own futures.
“Repatriation must not begin until a safe and secure environment for the voluntary return of Rohingya is put in place. This should include Myanmar’s government abolishing discriminatory state policies and practices, and guarantees that returnees will not be settled indefinitely in internally displaced persons camps,” reads the statement.
Santiago said Rohingya must also be allowed to worship freely, access education, be compensated for their loss of land and livelihood, and receive a degree of international protection so they are not left at the mercy of the Myanmar security forces.