Smooth Rohingya repatriation needed

The process must be continual and sustainable

Despite some ongoing crises worldwide, a piece of good news for the world is that Myaanmar expressed its interest in repatriating some Rohingya (an estimated 700 Rohingya primarily) t Rakhine. Although the estimated number of Rohingya refugees needing repatriation in Rakhine is very low, the significance of the issue seems to be very important.

The Myanmar military starts to understand that Rohingyas are the people of the Rakhine (a state in Myanmar). It is appreciable that Myanmar understands the reality in the long run. But Myanmar should have goodwill and commitment to repatriate the Rohingya. It would be pragmatic when Myanmar would ensure the implementation of its goodwill. Bangladesh is continuously emphasizing the need for efforts to facilitate early repatriation of the displaced people of Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

However, it is a matter of hope to note that there is a sign of progress in negotiations over the repatriation of the Rohingya ethnic minority of Myanmar from Bangladesh, who were subjected to expulsions from Myanmar in 2017. Earlier, Bangladesh signed a bilateral agreement with Myanmar on 30 October 2017 and on 30 October 2018 respectively. But the world didn’t see the implementation of the agreements.

There are more than one million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. with 0.7 million new ones have come, while there were 0.4 million from before. Bangladesh has shown its humanity by sheltering these huge numbers of Rohingya. Neighbouring Myanmar, on the other hand, has always played a controversial role at home and abroad, which is beyond diplomatic etiquette. According to various reports published in Bangladeshi newspapers recently, the junta government of Myanmar has sent a letter expressing its interest in taking back the Rohingyas.

Myanmar’s junta says it is working to bring back Rohingya refugees who fled Rakhine State for Bangladesh following the military’s supposed counter-insurgency operations in 2017.

Junta leaders, including International Cooperation Minister U Ko Ko Hlaing, Border Affairs Minister Lt Ge Tun Tun Naung, Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Minister Dr Thet Thet Khaing and Immigration and Population Minister U Myint Kyaing, visited Maungdaw on the Bangladesh border on Sunday and instructed the authorities to prepare transit camps for repatriation.

Myanmar must have goodwill to engage positively with Bangladesh. The world wants to see a fruitful and sustainable solution to the Rohingya crisis. The Rohingya crisis solution would be essential for the safe and dignified repatriation of Rohingya people to Myanmar from Bangladesh.

One Maungdaw resident said: “I heard they asked departments to make transit camps ready, that they would take back refugees from Bangladesh, that they would make preparations whether [Rohingya] come back or not.”

Some Muslim and Hindu leaders from Maungdaw were summoned to Sittwe to meet junta ministers. Ko Khin Maung, from a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh, said whether the Rohingya will return to Maungdaw depends on the junta’s honesty and the refugees have little trust in the repatriation programme.

“We do want to return. We are experiencing hardships, after staying for a long time in refugee camps. But the question is if we will be allowed to go back to our homes. It is not OK for us if we will just be held at the Hla Poe Kaung transit camp. The repatriation programme will not be successful if the regime is dishonest,” he said.

Rohingya rights activist U Nay San Lwin, co-founder of the Germany-based Free Rohingya Coalition, said the Rohingya would not return unless their rights are guaranteed.

“The news of junta ministers making inspection tours at the border to take back refugees is no longer news to us. We are used to hearing such news. And refugees are not excited anymore. The military moves slightly when there are growing pressures from the international community and China. Nothing more than that,” U Nay San Lwin said.

Recently, the regime sent back over 900 Rohingya detained in Yangon and elsewhere in Myanmar to Maungdaw. They will reportedly be accommodated at transit camps but this could not be independently verified.

The regime’s repatriation moves, according to some Rohingya activists, are an attempt to salvage its international reputation and help its case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), where Myanmar faces genocide charges.

A brutal military crackdown in the wake of Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacks on police outposts in Rakhine in 2017 forced more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee across the Bangladesh border. In response tThe Gambia in November 2019 brought a case at the ICJ, accusing Myanmar of committing genocide against the Rohingya.

On November 23, 2017, Bangladesh and the now-ousted National League for Democracy government signed a repatriation agreement but there has been no progress.

Bangladesh hopes to repatriate 750,000 Rohingyas in various phases. And this repatriation is supposed to be done voluntarily and by ensuring a safe environment. The United Nations will also be involved in this process. The process of Rohingya repatriation has been stalled for a long time due to elections, military coups, and the covid-19 pandemic in Myanmar.

More than 700,000 Rohingyas were forced to migrate to Bangladesh after the start of the military operation in Rakhine on 25 August 2017. The Myanmar government made an agreement with Bangladesh to take back the Rohingyas, but Despite international pressure, the repatriation has not started even today. On the contrary, Myanmar has repeatedly obstructed the repatriation process by resorting to various tactics. The international community has also not taken a strong stand on the Rohingya issue. On the contrary, it has ended its ‘liability’ with boastful words

The Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina Wajid, has always shown humanity on the Rohingya issue. Myanmar’s current interest should not be manipulated in the end. In this case, Bangladesh must remain vigilant as always.

If we want fruitful and durable repatriation of Rohingyas to Rakhine, now the international community must compel Myanmar to abide by some international customary law regarding the repatriation of the Rohingya. Myanmar government must fulfil such criteria:

1)         Rohingya repatriation must be safe, continual, dignified, and sustainable based that is something Myanmar must guarantee.

2)         Myanmar should amend the 1982 citizenship law. It must consider Rohingyas as a legal ethnic group in Myanmar.

3)         Safe zone for Rohingyas must be ensured.

4)         They must fulfil the requirements or proposals of the Kofi Annan Commission (The Advisory Commission on Rakhine State), and the Bangladesh Prime Minister’s proposals at the 74th, 75th, 76th UN General Assembly.

5)         However, analysts advise Bangladesh to be cautious if Myanmar now wants to take back 700 people. They must keep their word. Myanmar must confirm it will take back all stranded Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

6)         They must be committed that the process would be a continual process. All Rohingya would be repatriated gradually.

7)         Bangladesh needs to increase diplomatic contacts Bangladesh needs to take a holistic stance on the Rohingya issue in various forums regarding the proposed Rohingya repatriation. Third parties such as UNHCR and ASEAN, even third countries, can be included in the process.

8)         Myanmar must act as a friendly neighbour with Bangladesh. It isn’t possible for Myanmar and Bangladesh to change their neighbours. Basically, Myanmar and Bangladesh must engage with neighbourly spirit. Myanmar and Bangladesh must strengthen their ties to resolve the long-pending Rohingya crisis. The whole of South Asia and Southeast Asia could benefit from resolving this regional humanitarian crisis.

9)         Myanmar must have goodwill to engage positively with Bangladesh. The world wants to see a fruitful and sustainable solution to the Rohingya crisis. The Rohingya crisis solution would be essential for the safe and dignified repatriation of Rohingya people to Myanmar from Bangladesh.

However, Myanmar’s proposed Rohingya repatriation process must be smoothly implemented, continual, sustainable.

Jubeda Chowdhury
Jubeda Chowdhury
The writer is a freelance columnist


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