When and How Myanmar’s Rohingya repatriation scheme will be considered praise-worthy?
The tangle of Rohingya problem that has been hanging for 6 years is going to be opened. The resettlement of the Rohingyas who have taken refuge in Bangladesh is going to start very soon. Myanmar's flexibility with China's support is accommodating it. In 2017, about 1.2 million Rohingya took refuge in Bangladesh in the face of military torture in neighboring Myanmar. Bangladesh was providing them shelter as well as humanitarian assistance.
The Rohingya problem is not in Bangladesh, but in neighboring Myanmar. It has now become a big burden for Bangladesh as millions of persecuted Rohingyas from Arakan state have sought refuge in Bangladesh. Even though the Bangladesh government has provided shelter and food to this large number of Rohingya people for humanitarian reasons, it is not possible for Bangladesh to bear this burden indefinitely.
Therefore, the government of Bangladesh has been doing the work of repatriating the Rohingyas to their own country, Arkan, Myanmar, along with shelter and overall cooperation. And for this reason, the Bangladesh government is trying to solve the issue with the cooperation of the international community including Myanmar-China. But the repatriation has repeatedly stumbled due to various reasons, including Myanmar's non-cooperation.
It has been seen that whenever the issue of Rohingya repatriation has come up, some kind of incident has taken place in the Rohingya camp on behalf of the beneficiaries. Either shootings or fires or other disturbances were observed. According to observers, Myanmar has recently taken initiative to repatriate Rohingyas. As part of this initiative, diplomats from eight countries posted in Yangon were flown to Rakhine last week. Diplomats from Bangladesh, India and China were among them.
For the second day, Rohingyas were interviewed. On Thursday (March 16) around 8 am the interview started at Teknaf Sadar land port rest house. On Wednesday morning, a delegation of 22 members of Myanmar's technical team arrived at Teknaf Myanmar Transit Jetty Ghat by speedboat. On Wednesday, 93 Rohingyas from 29 families were interviewed, but how many people were interviewed on Thursday could not be confirmed until writing this report.
In this regard, Additional Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (Deputy Secretary) Khalid Hossain said, "The interview of Rohingyas with the representatives of Myanmar has started in the morning like the second day. At the end of the day, it can be said how many Rohingyas have given interviews. The previous day, more than 90 Rohingyas gave interviews. This activity will continue for a few more days.
It can be seen on the ground that 52 Rohingyas from 19 families were brought to the rest house inside the land port by bus from Leda, Mouchni and Jadimura Rohingya camps around 7 am on Thursday. Myanmar delegation is interrogating them there. When asked about this, Teknaf Shalbon Rohingya camp leader Bajlul Rahman said, "The Rohingyas gave an interview to the Myanmar delegation like on the second day. More than half a hundred Rohingyas are scheduled to be interviewed.
Mohammad Khaled of Muchni Camp, who gave an interview to the Myanmar representative on Wednesday, said, "The Myanmar delegation wanted to know the name of the member and chairman of the village where we lived in Myanmar." They wrote down our answers. Apart from me, they checked the information of my family members.'' He added, 'They did not want to know anything about our return to Myanmar. But we want to go back. If security is given, we are willing to repatriate.
According to the RRRC office, the meeting was mainly about the verification of the list of Rohingyas sent to Myanmar. The discussion will continue in the meeting on the return list of Rohingyas who were verified as their citizens by Myanmar from the list sent by Bangladesh. Earlier, a list of 862,000 Rohingya was given to Myanmar by Bangladesh government. After verifying this list provided by Bangladesh, Myanmar announced to take back about 70 thousand Rohingya. Initially, more than 1,000 Rohingyas are said to be taken back under family-based repatriation. Among them there are about one hundred Rohingyas from the Hindu community. Beyond the list, the route map of the entire repatriation process can be discussed. However, this meeting does not mean the start of repatriation, said the official. It is known that under a pilot project initiated by China, Bangladesh and United Nations officials will hold a meeting on repatriation on March 15 with 1,000 Rohingyas who have been vetted for repatriation in the first phase.
According to diplomatic analysts, in view of international pressure, it seems that China will mainly protect Myanmar's interests by repatriating only 1,000 Rohingya refugees out of 1.1 million Rohingya. Repatriation needs to start anyway, according to observers.
Meanwhile, Rakhine State Attorney General and State Spokesperson Hla Thein told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that two shelter camps have been prepared for those Rohingyas who returned to the areas bordering Bangladesh in Myanmar.
In this regard, Cox's Bazar Refugee Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner Mohammad Mizanur Rahman said, "Discussions have been going on with Myanmar for the last two-three years regarding a proposal to resettle about 1,000 Rohingya under a pilot project." On January 30, the progress of the Rohingya repatriation process was discussed in the meeting of the parliamentary standing committee related to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh. In the minutes of that meeting, a trilateral initiative involving Bangladesh and Myanmar has been adopted in the first half of 2020 with China's involvement. To resolve the Rohingya crisis, Myanmar's friend China brokered a pilot project to start the sustainable repatriation of a limited number of Rohingya.
Myanmar's Rohingya repatriation initiative would be praiseworthy when it is practical. 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:
Rohingya repatriation must be safe, continual, dignified, and sustainable based that is something Myanmar must guarantee. Myanmar should amend the 1982 citizenship law. It must consider Rohingyas as a legal ethnic group in Myanmar. Safe zone for Rohingyas must be ensured. 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. 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. They must be committed that the process would be a continual process. All Rohingya would be repatriated gradually. 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.
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. 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, and sustainable.
The writer is a columnist