No one should obstruct trial repatriation, says Shahriar Alam

Six years after the Rohingya influx in Bangladesh, the government continues its efforts focusing on their safe repatriation, though some countries and international organisations are pushing for their integration in Bangladesh.

"Our priority is that they (Rohingyas) will return to their homeland. Myanmar is also willing to take them back," said Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen, noting that Myanmar needs to ensure safety and security of the Rohingyas after their return to their place of origin.

On August 25, 2017, Myanmar's military began carrying out violent operations against the Rohingya population in northern Rakhine state, which resulted in grave crimes under international law. Entire villages were burnt, and hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas were forced to flee into Bangladesh.

The Foreign Minister said the government remains in a firm position regarding their repatriation to Myanmar.

"So, discussion is underway. We are always hopeful," he said, adding that some countries and international organisations recommended the Bangladesh government to give Rohingyas training and skills, and keep them here.

Momen said Bangladesh already has a huge population and it does not need a large number of people from other countries.

The minister said Rohingyas came to Bangladesh in the 1970s, '80s and '90s but every time they returned, even during military rule in the past.

State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam said no one should create a barrier to trial repatriation of the Rohingyas to Myanmar, noting that such trial repatriation will help understand issues before a large-scale repatriation.

"This trial repatriation is to know the areas of problems before the large-scale repatriation. It will help examine the issues for better designing a regular repatriation initiative. No one should create a barrier," he said.

The State Minister said the Rohingyas did not say that they do not want to return; rather they always conveyed their desire for returning home whenever any foreign dignitaries met them at camps.

He, however, said the government will always uphold its commitment for a "dignified and voluntary" return even if it is trial repatriation.

Responding to a question, Shahriar Alam said certainly there are challenges; and gun running and drug trafficking incidents increased in the camps while skilled members of the law enforcing agencies were killed and injured.

He urged all not to undermine Bangladesh's efforts and recalled how the international media described Bhasan Char a floating island to undermine Bangladesh's efforts.

The State Minister said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gave shelter to the Rohingyas on humanitarian grounds. "We will remain committed as long as they are in Bangladesh."

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, has called for renewed commitment from the international community for financial support to sustain the humanitarian response and political support to find solutions for over 1.1 million Rohingyas in Bangladesh.

A dignified and sustainable return to Myanmar remains the primary solution to this crisis, said the UNHCR, adding that "Rohingya refugees continue to tell us they want to return to Myanmar when it is safe for them to do so voluntarily."

The collective goal should be to ensure Rohingyas' voluntary return to Myanmar - to their places of origin or choice, being able to move freely and access documentation, citizenship pathways, services and income-generation opportunities to rebuild their lives, UNHCR said.

This week marks six years since over 700,000 Rohingya men, women and children from Myanmar fled to Bangladesh.

They joined hundreds of thousands of other Rohingyas who had previously sought refuge in the country.

As the humanitarian condition in the world's largest refugee settlement worsens, the challenges surrounding this protracted crisis continue to increase.

Steep decline in funds is forcing humanitarian actors to focus on the most critical and life-saving needs, UNHCR said.

It has for the first time led to the reduction of refugees' food assistance, raising concerns about cascading dramatic consequences: rising malnutrition, school dropout, child marriage, child labour and gender-based violence.

With their strength and resilience, the Rohingya refugees have, over the past six years, formed the backbone of the humanitarian response and supported the communities hosting them in turn.

UNHCR urged support to enable Rohingya refugees to benefit from education and skills development, through vocational training and other forms of capacity-building.

This will not only equip the refugees for their eventual return but also ensure their dignity, safety and productivity during their time in Bangladesh.

This can empower them to address some of their own needs, as the refugees do not wish to be totally reliant on diminishing humanitarian aid, said the UN refugee agency on Tuesday.

The UN agency said the international community must renew its efforts to make that possible. "As the United Nations remains ready to support efforts to create the conditions that would be conducive to sustainable return, it is crucial that UNHCR and its partners are provided unimpeded, meaningful and predictable access in Rakhine State in Myanmar, including to assist and monitor the return of refugees."

The collective goal should be to ensure Rohingyas' voluntary return to Myanmar - to their places of origin or choice, being able to move freely and access documentation, citizenship pathways, services and income-generation opportunities to rebuild their lives, UNHCR said.

Until they can return, they remain in refugee camps located in an area off the coast of the Bay of Bengal, which is extremely vulnerable to cyclones, flooding, landslides, fire outbreaks, and the impacts of climate change.

These have a devastating impact on the congested camps, and their frequency barely leaves time to rebuild shelters made of bamboo and tarpaulin before the next disaster strikes.

UNHCR continues to prioritise a climate action strategy, advocating for weather-and fire-resistant refugee shelter materials which can save millions of dollars in maintenance and rebuilding costs.

Hosting over one million Rohingya refugees, Bangladesh has demonstrated humanitarian commitments and a generosity which must be acknowledged through continued investment in both Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi host communities.

"The international community must step up to share responsibility for the response. Stakeholders are encouraged to expand their support and commitments through pledges in support of the Rohingya situation at the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva in December 2023," UNHCR said.

Humanitarian agencies have appealed for $876 million this year to assist around 1.47 million people, including Rohingya refugees and local Bangladeshis.

However, as of mid-August 2023, funds for the Joint Response Plan only reached 28.9 percent of this appeal, dismally highlighting the need for consistent and predictable financial backing to prevent a broader humanitarian crisis.

The Rohingyas in Bangladesh face little prospect of safely returning home, six years since the Myanmar military launched a campaign of mass atrocities in Rakhine State on August 25, 2017, said the Human Rights Watch.

The United Nations Security Council has failed to hold Myanmar's generals accountable for crimes against humanity and acts of genocide against the Rohingya, it said.

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