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Rohingya repatriation: Stalemate continues, no breakthrough in sight

  • Published at 01:40 am March 29th, 2019
Myanmar-Rohingya issue
File photo: Rohingya refugees gather at a market inside a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, March 7, 2019 Reuters

Govt officials, Rohingyas equally frustrated

Nearly twenty months into the latest exodus of Rohingyas to Cox’s Bazar from Rakhine, there appears to be no sign of a breakthrough in the repatriation of the persecuted people to their homes.

An agreement on repatriation was signed by the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar more than sixteen months ago, but there has been no further progress.The stalemate in regards to repatriation has made both the Bangladesh government and Rohingya refugees equally frustrated.

On August 25, 2017, Myanmar security forces, aided by local Buddhist mobs and people from different ethnic groups, launched a brutal crackdown on the Rohingyas, forcing hundreds of thousands to cross into Cox’s Bazar. 

Since the crackdown, which many including the United Nations say amounts to genocide, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity, more than 730,000 Rohingyas took shelter in Bangladesh’s coastal district of Cox’s Bazar. This figure is in addition to about 3-4 four million Rohingyas who have long been living in Bangladesh, causing a number of socioeconomic problems.

High profile delegations from Myanmar and Bangladesh have held several meetings with each other in both countries since the crackdown began, and a repatriation agreement was signed in Naypyidaw on March 23. According to the deal, repatriation should have begun within two months of the signing of the instrument.

Furthermore, the deal calls on Myanmar to take all necessary measures to ensure a favourable environment for the safe, secure and dignified return of the Rohingyas, but the country has failed to do so despite making repeated pledges.

Following a series of painstaking discussions between proactive Bangladesh and unwilling Myanmar, the countries attempted to begin repatriation on November 15, 2018, but the effort failed due to the unwillingness of the Rohingyas and objections from the international community. There has been no development in the repatriation of Rohingya refugees since the failed attempt, according to senior officials concerned.

“There has been virtually no development regarding the repatriation, as far as I know,” Abul Kalam, Refugee Relief and Repatriation commissioner based in Cox’s Bazar, told the Dhaka Tribune on Thursday.

“Apart from properly looking after the Rohingyas living in different settlements, we are taking preparations for the upcoming monsoon season,” he said.

“Honestly, I don’t know when the repatriation will begin. I wish I knew,” added Kalam, also additional secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and the highest level government official to deal with the Rohingya crisis in Cox’s Bazar.

A number of senior officials of the Cox’s Bazar district administration echoed Kalam’s sentiments on the repatriation process and expressed frustration at a “hopeless situation.”

Thursday afternoon, some Rohingya residents of a settlement in Balukhali told this correspondent that they are eager to return to their homes in Rakhine if the conditions there are safe and secure, but they are unsure when this will be the case.

 “We are frustrated because we don’t know what is there for us in the future. No one should be happy to live in an uncertain situation,” said Hamid, a majhi (Rohingya community leader).

“I think everyone will return if the conditions in Rakhine can be made safe. The conditions we are living in are not ideal, but they are much better than the present condition in Rakhine ,” said an old man, asking to remain anonymous.