Rohingya repatriation from Bangladesh: Myanmar must keep its word
Myanmar and Bangladesh must cooperate in a neighbourly manner. Resolving the regional humanitarian problem will benefit the entire region of South Asia and Southeast Asia, writes Parvej Siddique Bhuiyan for South Asia Monitor
Rohingyas have staged demonstrations demanding their immediate return to Myanmar.
The latest rally was held June 19 at the Lombashia camp in Ukhia, ignoring the rains. On World Refugee Day the next day, more rallies were held. The demonstrators also demanded a trial of those who slaughtered members of the community in Myanmar.
Amidst these, there is some good news: Myanmar has expressed interest in accepting some Rohingyas in Rakhine. The Myanmar-Bangladesh Joint Working Group for repatriation of Muslim refugees held its fifth meeting on June 14.
Myanmar's military is beginning to recognize Rohingyas as Rakhine people (Myanmar). It is commendable that Myanmar recognizes the long-term realities. It should show willingness and commitment to take back the Rohingyas. Myanmar must put its stated goodwill into action. Bangladesh has consistently emphasized the importance of facilitating an early repatriation of Rakhine state's displaced people.
The two parties talked about the verification process and how to begin repatriating individuals verified by Myanmar. They also discussed plans for voluntary returnee resettlement and trust building.
Myanmar discussed measures to ensure security and rule of law in Rakhine State, including the renovation of transit camps and houses in villages where returnees will be resettled; plans to create jobs and provide education and healthcare to returnees; and cooperation with partner countries, including ASEAN and UN agencies, in the repatriation process.
Muslim refugees in Bangladesh are unlikely to return to Myanmar for the time being, according to analysts, due to the increasingly tense dynamics that have surrounded last year's coup and the delicate situation in Arakan State.
Myanmar sees realities
However, it is encouraging to see signs of movement in negotiations for the repatriation of Myanmar's Rohingya ethnic minority from Bangladesh, who were forcibly expelled from Myanmar in 2017. Myanmar understood that any delay regarding the repatriation can destabilize the region. Long-term uncertainty about repatriation may encourage Rohingya refugees to engage in criminal activity. Many Rohingya are becoming disgruntled as a result of the prolonged ambiguity surrounding their repatriation.
Bangladesh had previously signed agreements with Myanmar in October 2017 and October 2018. However, the accords were not implemented. Bangladesh is home to over one million Rohingya refugees.
Bangladesh wants Myanmar to speed up the verification of Rohingyas so that they can be repatriated, which has been delayed for the past five years due to unfavorable conditions in Rakhine, according to the Rohingyas.
Bangladesh also highlighted the importance of maintaining the security, livelihood and well-being of the returnees.
Following deadly military campaigns in 2017, around 750,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh.
Bangladesh intends to repatriate 750,000 Rohingya Muslims over the course of many years. And this repatriation is meant to be voluntary and conducted in a secure setting. This approach will also involve the United Nations. Elections, military coups and the Covid-19 outbreak in Myanmar have all slowed down the process of Rohingya repatriation.
Myanmar has consistently used a variety of techniques to hinder the repatriation process. On the Rohingya situation, the world has also been silent. If we desire a long-lasting repatriation of Rohingyas in Rakhine, the international community must push Myanmar to follow certain law on repatriation.
Expectations from Myanmar
Firstly, Myanmar must keep its word on promises made and ensure that the repatriation of Rohingya Muslims is safe, continuous, dignified and long-term.
Myanmar should change the citizenship law of 1982 and recognize Rohingyas as a legal ethnic group.
The Rohingyas must have a safe haven in their birthplace Rakhine.
Myanmar must affirm that it will take back all Rohingyas in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh must take a comprehensive stance on the Rohingya issue in international forums. Third parties and even third countries can be involved in the repatriation process.
Myanmar and Bangladesh must cooperate in a neighbourly manner. Resolving the regional humanitarian problem will benefit the entire region of South Asia and Southeast Asia.
(The author is a Dhaka-based security and strategic affairs analyst. Views are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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