For the first time, a minister of the Myanmar government has agreed to visit the camps of Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar later this month, Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque has said.
But the government also has plans to take the minister to the no man’s land at Bandarban’s Naikhongchhari border, he said at a conference at Dhaka University’s (DU) Nabab Nawab Ali Chowdhury Senate Bhaban on Monday.
The secretary, however, did not mention the name of the minister.
Shahidul said living on the Bangladesh-Myanmar zero line, there were around 5,000 Rohingyas who did not enter Bangladesh even after being threatened and tortured.
When discussions were held with Myanmar, Bangladesh had asked whether they would take steps to take the Rohingyas back as they were near their border and Myanmar had agreed, he said.
He said the joint working group, comprised of officials from both countries, had recently visited the border’s zero line and the Rohingyas staying there, and discussed repatriation of those whose houses have not been burned down in the military crackdown that started in late August last year in Rakhine state.
The foreign secretary said they were trying to create a mechanism that will ensure safe return of the refugees.
But he criticized the role of Myanmar troops who were positioned in that portion of the no man’s land, and said seeing the army stationed right behind them was scaring the Rohingyas.
Under such circumstances, no population would go back to their home, Shahidul said, and added that is why the visiting Myanmar minister would be taken there to observe the situation firsthand.
Since the latest influx began on August 25, 2017, no Myanmar minister till now visited the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, where more than 1.1 million Rohingyas, including the 700,000 who recently fled Rakhine, are living.
Myanmar's Home Minister Lt Gen Kyaw Swe had visited Dhaka in February on a three-day trip. During that trip, Bangladesh had handed over a list of 1,673 Rohingya families (8,032 individuals) to Myanmar officials to start the first phase of repatriation of the displaced people to their homeland.
Before him, Kyaw Tint Swe, the union minister for the office of Myanmar's Ministry of the State Counsellor, had visited Dhaka on a two-day trip, during which he held a meeting with Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali.
That was the first meeting between the neighbours over the Rohingya issue since the latest chapter in the crisis unfolded on August 25 when insurgents attacked police outposts and an army base in Rakhine, prompting a brutal counteroffensive from the Myanmar military.
An agreement to repatriate the Rohingyas to Rakhine has yet to see a single refugee returned.
On Monday, Foreign Secretary Shahidul was the chief guest at the international conference titled “Rohingya Refugee Crisis: Towards Sustainable Solutions” jointly organized by DU’s Centre for Genocide Studies, Brac University and ActionAid.
Along with Bangladesh government officials, representatives from more than 10 countries, national and international organizations, including NGOs, CSOs and CBOs, activists and community leaders, national and international academics and experts are taking part in the two-day event.
The conference began around 10am with the welcome address delivered by its Co-convener Manzoor Alam, executive director of Brac University’s Centre for Peace and Justice and chair of ActionAid Bangladesh.
Later, a message from Robert Keith Rae, special envoy of Canada for Myanmar, was read out at the inaugural session, during which Prof Imtiaz Ahmed of DU’s International Relations department also presented the keynote paper.
The event will end on Tuesday with the Dhaka Declaration, an outline of measures for finding sustainable solutions, co-signed by the participants, which will be later sent to the United Nations and the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar to address the issues.
This article was compiled with information from Bangla Tribune, UNB and BSS