The governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an agreement on November 23 to repatriate the Rohingya. Bangladesh Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali and Myanmar Union Minister Kyaw Tint Swe signed the bilateral instrument “Arrangement on return of displaced persons from Rakhine State” on behalf of the respective governments in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw.
The basic conditions of the agreement come from an older repatriation deal signed by both parties in 1992. Myanmar insisted on adhering to the conditions of the 1992 agreement. The Bangladesh government’s decision to agree to Myanmar’s demand has been critisized by various parties.
On Saturday, Minister AH Mahmood Ali addressed the media to brief them on the repatriation discussions.
He said: “Our only goal is to send the Rohingya back to their country, and there is no point in criticizing this agreement.”
The foreign minister had earlier called the terms of the 1992 Rohingya repatriation agreement unacceptable several times in the past.
Initially, only the Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh after October 2016, will be sent back. Rohingyas who have been living since before the October 2016 Rohingya crisis will be sent back later. The minister said it was impractical to put the process on a timeframe.
According to the terms, the repatriation will require proof of residency in Myanmar. The agreement refers to the Rohingya as “displaced Myanmar residents.”
They will have to produce copies of documents issued in Myanmar which indicate they are residents of Myanmar. This extends to, but is not limited to, citizenship identity cards, national registration cards, temporary registration cards, business ownership documents, school attendance, etc.
Any refugee documentation issued by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) will also be subject to similar verification. The government of Myanmar gets the last say in any dispute.
The repatriation is expected to commence as soon as possible. The concerns of Bangladesh and the international community have been taken into account on resettlement. The foreign minister also said Myanmar would rehabilitate the Rohingya in their former neighbourhoods, or any place near their previous homesteads. However, the repatriated “will not be settled in temporary places for a long period of time and their freedom of movement in Rakhine State will be allowed in conformity with the existing laws and regulations,” reads the MoU.
A joint working group is to be established within three weeks of signing to oversee the repatriation process. The process has to commence within two months after the signing. Both governments have agreed not to develop or implement any policy which may discriminate against any particular community and/or violate universally agreed principles on human rights.
Myanmar has also agreed to not prosecute or penalize any of the repatriated for illegal exodus and return, unless they are found to be specifically involved in terrorist or criminal activities.
After the repatriation, both governments will not provide residency or citizenship to any illegal immigrants.
The minister noted the agreement is legally binding, but greatly depends on the sincerity of both governments to implement it successfully.
WHAT THE EXPERTS THINK
C R Abrar (migration expert)
We have signed a deal that we know will not yield any results. Chances are very slim that our expectation on repatriation and rehabilitation of Rohingyas will come true, but we would be enlightened if it turns into reality.
Earlier, Bangladesh have made some conditions like putting emphasis on a time-bound plan, involvement of third party, ensuring an atmosphere in Rakhine state so that they can voluntarily return there, but we are retreating from those points now.
The latest agreement allows third party involvement on repatriation and rehabilitation, but not in verification as the absolute decision on verification which lies with Myanmar and it essentially kills a process that could have been neutral.
The agreement stresses for documentation, but how come a community, who fled their count from atrocities and ethnic cleansing, can have their documents?
The whole process now depends on the goodwill of Myanmar. But I do not expect that it will yield a good outcome.
M Humayun Kabir (former ambassador)
The way Myanmar has played tricks with Bangladesh on Rohingya crisis is a part of interpolation of time. Myanmar wants to take them back under the 1992 agreement where they need documents that can prove citizenship from Bangladesh.
But the white card, that these people may have had, have their name and address in Burmese. But their names and addresses may not match with the registration made in Bangladesh because these Rohingyas are more willing to use the Rakhine language and have little idea of Burmese. In addition, they have fled their houses and most of them even do not have those documents.
The only way was to get a resolution might be from UNGA, but the next UNGA meeting might be in December, and Myanmar has thus played a trick by taking two months so that the meeting can end during the period and Bangladesh may fail to get any resolution.
Afsan Chowdhury (researcher and journalist)
Where UNHCR said that Myanmar’s Rakhaine State is not in place to enable safe and sustainable returns at present situation then what will happen when we send them back.
They will come back again. So, we have to take measures that they do not come back for the forth time. We want them to go back but, do not want them to come back which happened also after the 1992 agreement.
We also do not know how this MoU will be implemented. We need to ensure that they do not come back as it becomes a regular problem for us.