• Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019
  • Last Update : 12:10 pm

Rohingya repatriation: Fourth Bangladesh, Myanmar talks on May 3

  • Published at 09:23 pm April 18th, 2019
The conditions of the Rohingya settlements in Cox’s Bazar’s Ukhiya and Teknaf upazilas have improved significantly from what it was during the arrival of the refugees 19 months ago.  However, the camps are still far from ideal.  Overcrowdedness is the main problem, which has been creating many health and social problems in the makeshift camps.  Government officials said the situation is likely to deteriorate in the future, as the population of the settlements have been increasing every day.  Nevertheless, officials stressed the importance of ensuring food and basic needs for the displaced Rohingyas.  Nearly 700,000 Rohingyas have entered Bangladesh and taken refuge in the camps since the military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state began on August 25, 2017. They joined the 400,000 Rohingyas who had already come to Cox’s Bazar earlier.  This correspondent visited the camps and spoke to the Rohingyas who have been living there since their 2017 exodus.   Despite several problems, many Rohingyas told this correspondent that they still prefer living in the camps over going back to Rakhine because their safety is being ensured here by the host government.  “I cannot ask for more. Here in Bangladesh, at least I can sleep without fearing of losing my life or being tortured. I will only return to my home in Rakhine if my security is ensured,” Mohammad Yusuf, who lives at Camp 9 in Balukhali, told the Dhaka Tribune.     When asked about the congestion in the camps, Mizanur Rahman, an official from the Public Administration Ministry and also in-charge of Camp 9 and 10, said they are putting in all efforts to ensure a less congested environment.  “Keeping the congestion in mind, the government is trying to relocate them to Bhashan Char. Let us see what happens,” he said.  Replying to a query, he said: “Earlier, we had some problems regarding law and order, but now things are under control.”  Saving lives was the priority   According to government officials, international and local non-governmental organizations, everyone’s focus was to save lives of the Rohingyas, who started arriving in Cox’s Bazar in late August 2017.  They said now that arrivals have stopped and the situation in the settlements have become stable, “midterm” measures are being taken to improve the conditions, including the construction of houses that are better than the existing ones that are made of bamboo and plastic.  Over time, many other facilities like health clinics, learning centres and support for adolescents and women have been ensured, they added.  Officials said there were still many things that need to be done, but also that nothing much can be done when over a million people are housed on less than 10,000 acres of land.  “This suffocating situation is making the residents rude and quarrelsome. And we have to spend quite a lot of our time solving their issues that arises because of sharing homes and toilets,” a police official said.  “How long can you be confined to a small place without any work or activities? This kind of situation makes a person mentally unhealthy, which leads him or her to do things that should not be done,” he said.  An official of an international NGO said: “In some cases, some 20 people have to live in a space of less than 200sqft. Can you imagine? But this is the reality. More land is needed for the betterment of the situation. But we do not have land.”  The Rohingyas, who appear to have accepted these living conditions, said no one wants to live in this kind of situation, but they have no choice.  “The best thing for us is to return our homes in Rakhine. But that seems very unlikely,” a young Rohingya, who identified himself as Masum, told the Dhaka Tribune.
A market inside Rohingya refugee camp at Ukhiya in Cox's Bazar Dhaka Tribune

The JWG meeting is the first visible move after the botched repatriation attempt of November 15, 2018

The fourth meeting of the Bangladesh-Myanmar joint working group (JWG) will be held on May 3 in Naypyitaw to discuss the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas forced to take shelter in Cox’s Bazar to escape the brutalities of the Myanmar security forces, local Buddhist mobs, and people of various ethnic groups in Rakhine.

Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen spoke of the upcoming fourth meeting at a  foreign ministry press conference organized for the prime minister’s upcoming visit to Brunei on April 21-23.

When asked if this meeting would be at the foreign secretary-level, like previous ones, he said the foreign secretary was currently busy with an election and if unable, another senior diplomat would lead the Bangladeshi team.

Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque is now campaigning to be elected deputy director general of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the migration agency of the United Nations.

Dr Momen also said that during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Brunei, an Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) member, Myanmar and eight other South-eastern countries, with Bangladesh, would seek the assistance of Bandar Seri Begawan on the Rohingya issue.

The prime minister’s visit will play a role in regards to the solution of this protracted problem, he said.

The May 3 meeting of the JWG is the first visible move by the two neighbours after the botched repatriation attempt of November 15, last year.

Following the influx of the Rohingyas from Rakhine due to the brutal military crackdown on the community, forcing more than 750,000 people to flee their homes, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an agreement on November 23, 2017, in Naypyitaw.

According to the deal, the repatriation was supposed to begin within two months of the signing. But it was not possible due to Myanmar’s unwillingness to create a conducive environment for the return of Rohingyas, although the agreement specifically states that Naypyitaw should do that.

With the agreement signed, the countries formed the foreign secretary-level JWG which held its maiden meeting in Naypyitaw. The second and third meetings were held in Dhaka.