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Rohingya repatriation: Still elusive

  • Published at 10:39 am December 18th, 2018
Rohingya-children-Rohingya-camp-12-10-18
File photo of Rohingya children at a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Government pinning hope on international community pressuring Myanmar

More than one year after an agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar, repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas remains elusive, as Naypidaw is not taking measures to create a congenial atmosphere for their return, say government officials.

The situation is so “frustrating” that it is “simply impossible” for them to predict a timeframe when repatriation of the persecuted people­ – who crossed into Cox’s Bazar to escape unprecedented atrocities orchestrated by security forces, local Buddhist vigilantes and thugs from other ethnic groups in Rakhine – will begin, the officials told the Dhaka Tribune.

Based on on-the-ground reality and the apparent reluctance of Myanmar authorities to take its people back, a stronger role of the international community is the “last resort” for Bangladesh, they said.   

After the failed attempt to begin the repatriation on November 15, Bangladesh made an official communication with Myanmar on November 20, urging it to create a favourable condition for the return of the Rohingyas, described by many as the world’s most persecuted community.

The Myanmar authorities have yet to respond to the note verbale (government-to-government official communication), said foreign ministry officials.

On November 22, 2017, Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali and a minister attached to State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar, signed a deal to begin the repatriation by January 21, 2018. 

A foreign secretary-level joint working group (JWG) was set up based on the agreement to facilitate the repatriation. The working group already met thrice – in January, May and October. 

In the October meeting, both sides decided that the repatriation would begin on November 15 and all the “preparations” were taken on both sides. But the Rohingyas refused to return their home in Rakhine before all their issues, including citizenship, safety and security, are addressed.

“I really don’t know as to when the repatriation will begin,” a top foreign ministry official said.

However, he hastened to add: “We are engaged with the Myanmar side in this regard.”

Abul Kalam, refugee relief and repatriation commissioner based in Cox’s Bazar, said: “We are trying our best to begin the repatriation as soon as possible. But the problem here is that we are not in control of the affairs. It is Myanmar that will have to ensure an environment that will give the Rohingyas a sense of security.”

“But, unfortunately, Myanmar is not doing what it is supposed to do,” he said.

Regarding a possible timeframe when the repatriation might begin, Kalam, an additional secretary under Disaster Management Ministry, said: “It is anybody's guess. But I don’t think that there will be any development until after the election in Bangladesh.”

“Myanmar has yet to reply to our letter,” said a senior foreign ministry official with thorough knowledge about the issue.

Bangladesh is “kind of helpless” in this regard, he hinted, adding that Dhaka can only hope that the international community would play a much stronger role in making Myanmar implement the recommendations of the Kofi Annan Commission which outlined remedies of solution to the protracted problem.

“Our job should be to persuade the international community to do more to help solve the problem. I don’t see anything other than this can make any difference,” said a diplomat stationed in the Bangladesh Embassy in Yangon.

“However hopeless it looks, we don’t have any choice but to remain engaged with Myanmar,” he said.