Rohingya Repatriation: Another year of agony

img
Rohingyas struggle with new life in refugee camps in Bangladesh — Photo credit: UNHCR

Myanmar’s lack of sincerity hinders repatriation

People live in hope. Ronhingya refugees also do so and thus they spent another, 2020, that they would have a dignified return to their homeland in Myanmar. But, the hope for a better day did not come.

Now that it is another new year, 2021!

The year 2021 is expected to see fresh talks on Rohingya repatriation with no discussion in 2020 collided with Covid-19 pandemic and Myanmar general elections as big countries find the repatriation of Rohingyas to their place of origin in Myanmar’s Rakhine State is the only solution.

More than three years ago, Myanmar’s soldiers “targeted, killed, and raped” Rohingya and burned their villages, as the United Nations, Refugees International, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the U.S. State Department itself, and many others have documented.

Over 800,000 Rohingyas fled the “genocidal violence” and Bangladesh is now hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas.

“We had our last formal discussion with Myanmar in January this year (2020). Though Myanmar agreed to take back their nationals after verification, no Rohingyas returned home. There is a lack of sincerity from Myanmar side,” Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen told UNB.

He said the Rohingyas do not trust their government, and Bangladesh gave a number of proposals to build trust among them. “Myanmar didn’t say no to those proposals but no proposal was implemented.”

Bangladesh is trying in multiple ways - bilaterally, multilaterally, tri-laterally and through the judicial system – to find a lasting solution to the Rohingya crisis.

“Myanmar is a friendly country. They aren’t our enemy. We’ve nothing against Myanmar. Myanmar must create a conducive environment as Bangladesh wants to see the return of Rohingyas to Myanmar in safety and security,” Dr Momen said.

Bangladesh proposed deployment of non-military civilian observers from Myanmar’s friendly countries -- Japan, China, Russia, India and Asean countries.

“Myanmar did neither say yes or no on that particular proposal,” said the Foreign Minister adding that Bangladesh also proposed visits of Rohingya leaders to Rakhine and Myanmar government officials’ visit to Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar to interact with the Rohingays.

In the process, Dr Momen said, there should be confidence building and the main objective of Bangladesh is to see repatriation of Rohingyas. “They must return home (Myanmar).

Responding to a question, Dr Momen said all countries agree that repatriation is the solution and any delay in repatriation might create instability in the region and beyond.

Japanese Ambassador to Bangladesh Ito Naoki has recently said Japan supports the repatriation of Rohingyas to their homes in Rakhine State and wants to see the process starts next year.

"The Rohingya issue is very important. To see progress, we should see the start of the repatriation process next year. Japan will continue to help in this matter," he said.

Dr Momen said Japan has huge investment in Myanmar and has leverage over Myanmar; and sought continued support from Japan over the repatriation issue.

Ambassador Naoki said they are communicating directly with Myanmar's top military officials and at the government level on the Rohingya crisis as Japan sees it a proper channel to play a role.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi reiterated the importance of safe, speedy and sustainable return of Rohingyas to Myanmar.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina congratulated India on its election as a member of the United Nations Security Council and expressed Bangladesh’s expectation to see India assist in the repatriation of the forcibly displaced Rohingyas back to Myanmar.

The Foreign Minister said Bangladesh is discussing tri-laterally with China and Myanmar to find a solution to the Rohingya crisis.

Bhasan Char

In the face of growing concern over the extreme congestion in the camps of Cox’s Bazar and to avert any risk of death due to landslides and other unwarranted incidents, the government of Bangladesh has decided to relocate, in phases, 1,00,000 Rohingyas to Bhasan Char.

Accordingly, in the first phase, more than 1600 Rohingyas, who expressed their willingness voluntarily for relocation, were shifted to Bhasan Char on December 4.

The second batch of 1804 Rohingyas -- 433 men, 523 women and 843 children -- was shifted on December 29.

“Bhasan Char and other plans -- these are temporary arrangements,” said Dr Momen adding that the UN and UN agencies are vocal about this temporary arrangement.

“They should look at Rakhine whether a conducive environment is created there or not. If we go for doing anything, they create barriers,” he said.

The Foreign Minister said the rights bodies talk against Bhasan Char but their countries are not taking any Rohingyas as a burden sharing.

“UNHCR gets funds. But how do they spend? There’s no transparency and accountability though they’re collecting money in the name of Bangladesh,” Dr Momen said.

It’s Strategic Decision

Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen has said they have no displeasure against the countries which abstained from voting in the UN resolution and voted against it saying it is a “strategic” decision.

“It’s a strategic decision. We’re happy with the results,” he said, adding that a total of 132 countries, not 130 as reported in the media, voted in favour of the resolution which is a success for Bangladesh.

China and Russia stood beside Myanmar while India and Japan refrained from voting the draft resolution on the situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar which was adopted by the UN General Assembly.

Russia, China, Belarus, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, Vietnam, Zimbabwe and Myanmar themselves were the nine countries that voted against the resolution, i.e. in Myanmar's favour.

“Those countries could play a better role which voted against the resolution. We don’t have any displeasure against them,” Dr Momen said.

A total of 26 countries, including India, Japan, Sri Lanka and Singapore, abstained from voting on the resolution on the situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar.

The resolution was placed before the 75th General Assembly of the United Nations on Thursday.

“We’re happy that they talked to us before the decision,” Dr Momen said explaining why the countries wanted to remain neutral in the UN to use their leverage on Myanmar in finding the solution.

India has recently said they engaged with Myanmar at every level, including the highest level of the civilian government and the highest level of military establishment in the State of Rakhine, where they claimed to make their position clear.

Japanese Ambassador Ito Naoki said they are communicating directly with Myanmar's top military officials and at the government level on the Rohingya crisis as Japan sees it the proper channel to play a role.

China is trying to work with Myanmar and Bangladesh to find a solution through tripartite discussions.

Dr Momen said the Rohingya issue remains a big challenge and expressed his optimism over resumption of the repatriation process in this year. “It’s our expectation.”

FM Writes to Myanmar Counterpart

“I’ve conveyed to my counterpart in Myanmar that we want the process to start. You repeatedly told us that you will take them back after verification and provide safety and security. It’s our demand that you will provide it what you promised,” he said, adding that creating a conducive environment for voluntary repatriation has to be in place as promised.

The Foreign Minister said he wrote to his counterpart at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Myanmar on January 1 touching upon overall issues.

He said Myanmar is a friendly country and Bangladesh is trying to solve the Rohingya issue through discussion with Myanmar bilaterally apart from exploring other ways.

Dr Momen said they see some changes in Myanmar’s attitude.

Responding to a question, the Foreign Minister said China is trying to discuss the issue through a trilateral mechanism with Myanmar and Bangladesh. “We’re ready. We’ll sit once a date is fixed for the next round of discussions.”

He said Bangladesh also requested Japan as they have leverage on Myanmar. “Japan assured us of extending their help. We’re yet to take decision on how the framework will be designed.”

Dr Momen said Myanmar is also is in touch with Myanmar on the issue.

The Foreign Minister said there has been no progress from the Myanmar side and in the New Year Bangladesh expects that Myanmar will keep its word.

Historically, he said, Myanmar kept their words as he referred to the progress in 1978 and 1992. “It’s our belief and expectation that Myanmar will take back their nations though the figure is big compared to the past.”

Bangladesh thinks Rohingyas will "jeopardise regional and international security" if the 1.1 million Rohingya people are left unattended and not given the opportunity to return to their homeland.

“Development is not possible without peace,” said the Foreign Minister.

Myanmar did not take back a single Rohingya from Bangladesh over the last three years but Myanmar, in its attempts to “mislead” the international community, claimed that a total of 397 displaced people have voluntarily returned from Bangladesh to Myanmar.

Two repatriation attempts turned futile as Myanmar “failed to remove trust deficit” among the Rohingyas and there was “lack of conducive environment” in Rakhine for their return.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed the repatriation deal on November 23, 2017.On January 16, 2018, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a document on “Physical Arrangement”, which was supposed to facilitate the return of Rohingyas to their homeland.

Bangladesh says the Rohingyas do not trust their government and Bangladesh gave a number of proposals to build trust among them. Myanmar did not say no to those proposals but no proposal was implemented.

Bangladesh is trying in multiple ways -- bilaterally, multilaterally, tri-laterally and through the judicial system – to find a lasting solution to the Rohingya crisis.

Bangladesh proposed deployment of non-military civilian observers from Myanmar’s friendly countries -- Japan, China, Russia, India and Asean countries.

Myanmar did neither say yes or no on that particular proposal.

  • Bhashan Char
  • Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen
  • Myanmar
  • Crisis
  • Rohingya

Leave a Comment

Related News