Need to build trust among Rohingyas first for smooth repatriation

The Rohingyas will not consent to reside in the "model village" that is being constructed in Maungdoo for the rehabilitation of the Rohingyas. Most significantly, not a single Rohingya wants to go back to Rakhine until they can be assured of citizenship.

Fumiko Yamada May 10, 2023
Rohingyas(Photo: Youtube)

Can the "pilot project" undertaken to address the Rohingya situation in Myanmar offer any kind of resolution? There is a lot of noise surrounding this question right now. There is no chance for the Rohingya to return home, especially after the delegation from Myanmar arrived, given what they witnessed while in Myanmar.

Through China's intervention, the "pilot project" to repatriate the Rohingyas was essentially approved. Initiatives to repatriate Rohingyas are currently in their third phase. Aung San Suu Kyi's civilian-led administration in Myanmar reached a deal with Bangladesh's government in November 2017. However, they referred to the Rohingyas as "Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Citizens" at the time.

China, a major ally of Myanmar, mediated the agreement. China argued at the time that dialogue between the two nations should be used as the basis for resolving the Rohingya issue rather than placing sanctions on leaders in Myanmar. China desires that Myanmar's government be supportive of its interests. For this reason, China has consistently used its veto power to block earlier UN resolutions that sought to sanction Myanmar's military government.

By November 15, 2018, the first group of Rohingyas was due to be sent to Myanmar, but this has not happened.

Then, in August 2019, China launched a new initiative to deport the Rohingyas back. However, because the citizenship problem had not been resolved, the Rohingyas were unwilling to leave on their own.

Rohingyas reluctant to live in camps

China has now launched its third round of efforts to bring the Rohingyas home. However, representatives of the Rohingya community assert that they have not visited the village they left behind when they fled Maungdu in Myanmar's Rakhine state in August 2017. They claimed to have seen some camps set up in a row there.

This report was provided by a delegation of 27 people, 20 of them were Rohingya living in Bangladesh, who traveled to see the repatriation situation and returned from Myanmar on May 5.

They traveled to various communities close to Maungdu. There is no village there currently. The Myanmar army has constructed a series of camps. The Rohingyas will remain in these camps under the direction of the Myanmar government. 

The environment and circumstances in Rakhine are not right now conducive to repatriation. In their native area, which was abandoned six years ago, army barracks, police outposts, and border checks have been constructed. The Rohingyas will not consent to reside in the "model village" that is being constructed in Maungdu for the rehabilitation of the Rohingyas. Most significantly, not a single Rohingya wants to go back to Rakhine until they can be assured of citizenship.

Rohingyas want citizenship

The situation has made it very difficult for the Rohingyas to return home. An estimated 1.25 million Rohingyas are currently registered in 33 shelter camps in Bangladesh. Not a single Rohingya could be returned to Myanmar during the six years of the Rohingya migration.

The Rohingyas have demanded citizenship in the event of repatriation, but the delegation has been told that citizenship will not be given. The Rohingyas are becoming a burden for Bangladesh even though they were given shelter for humanitarian reasons. Additionally, less foreign help is now coming into the country than it did initially. While it is forbidden for the Rohingya to leave their refugee camp, the situation cannot be controlled. Many have attempted to travel abroad using fake passports and bogus identity cards but were caught. There were also reports of extremism taking root in the refugee camps.. 

Bangladesh provided Myanmar with a list of 882 000 Rohingya for repatriation in 2018. Myanmar compiled a list of only 68,000 Rohingya after scrutiny and handed it back to Bangladesh. Despite the relatively small number of Rohingyas that the Myanmar government wants to return, diplomatic efforts must be continued to gradually repatriate the remaining Rohingyas since a sizable proportion will continue to remain in Bangladesh. 

Sincere efforts must be made by all parties to ensure the success of this "pilot project." As the return of the Rohingya is impeded by a lack of trust in Myanmar, Myanmar and Bangladesh need to restore trust among themselves, and among Rohingyas first, for their smooth repatriation.

(The author is a graduate of South Asian Studies, University of Toronto, Canada, and currently a Research Fellow in Bangladesh Studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Views are personal. She can be contacted at

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