The fourth meeting of the Joint Working Group is scheduled to take place in the Myanmar capital on Friday
Bangladesh will press Myanmar, as firmly as possible, to create a favourable condition in the Rakhine state for a safe, sustainable and dignified return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas currently sheltered in Cox’s Bazar.
The Bangladesh-Myanmar Joint Working Group (JWG) is scheduled to meet for the fourth time in Naypyidaw on Friday, where it will be resuming the discussion on Rohingya repatriation.
The Bangladesh chapter officials of the JWG said they would fly to Myanmar tomorrow for the meeting “without any hope of a breakthrough” in the repatriation talks.
Mahbub Uz Zaman, secretary-bilateral (Asia and Pacific) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will lead the 16-member Bangladesh side at the foreign secretary-level meeting in the Myanmar capital.
Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque led the Bangladesh delegation in the first three JWG meetings, the first in January 2018 in Naypyidaw, the second in May 2018 in Dhaka, and the third in October 2018 in Dhaka.
Shahidul is unable to lead the team this time as he is busy with his campaign to be elected as the deputy director general of the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations migration agency.
The JWG was formed to facilitate the repatriation of the Rohingyas, who were forcibly displaced from their homeland in Rakhine, after Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a deal in Naypyidaw on November 23, 2017 stating that the repatriation would begin within two months.
As per the deal, by January 22, 2018, Myanmar was expected to create an environment for safe and sustainable return of the Rohingyas.
However, nothing of that sort has happened so far due to Myanmar’s unwillingness.
The expectations or lack thereof
In its first two meetings, the JWG made some decisions regarding the manner in which the repatriation would take place, and what physical infrastructure needs to be constructed, members of the Bangladesh delegation told the Dhaka Tribune.
In Friday’s meeting, Bangladesh will place great emphasis on the implementation of those decisions to begin the repatriation at the earliest, they said.
Given the history of dealing with Myanmar, the officials added that there was no reason for any hope of a departure from the status quo, at least, for the time being – mainly because the country’s second neighbour is not known for living up to its pledges.
The last JWG meeting held in Dhaka on October 30, 2018 in respect of the beginning of the repatriation on November 15, could not go ahead because of Myanmar’s failure to create conducive environment.
“Let’s be honest. We’re going to Naypyidaw on Thursday and hold the meeting the following day. We will press them as firmly as we can to implement the decisions made in the first two meetings. I anticipate Myanmar will come up with their versions, and there will be another set of decisions and perhaps pledges from their side. Eventually, things will go back to square one, as Myanmar is unlikely to take any positive action to begin the repatriation,” a senior government official, who is a member of the Bangladesh delegation in the JWG, told the Dhaka Tribune.
“The problem with Myanmar is that they don’t keep their promises. It’s really tough to deal with a party like this. I wouldn't allow myself to think that anything significant will come out of this meeting,” said another member of the delegation. “If the Myanmar side was cordial about taking its people back, we could have seen some changes on the ground. But that’s not happening. On the contrary, the Rohingyas in Rakhine are suffering as we speak due to the actions of the Myanmar government.”
When contacted, Abul Kalam, refugee relief and repatriation commissioner who is also a member of the Bangladesh delegation, told the Dhaka Tribune: “We will seek information from the Myanmar side on the progress of the decisions that we had made in the first and second JWG meetings. According to the decisions, the Myanmar government should have made physical and logistical arrangements for the safe, dignified and sustainable repatriation of the Rohingyas.”
Asked if he was hopeful of any positive outcome this time, he said: “We are going to Naypyidaw with optimism. But what we hear from Rakhine is not what we want to hear. We want our neighbour to be pragmatic in solving the protracted problem.”
Asked about the necessity of such meetings that are not delivering anything, Kalam, also an additional secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief and a top government official working on the ground in Cox’s Bazar, said: “We have to remain engaged with Myanmar. There is no other way but to remain engaged.
“Since the JWG meeting is about repatriation, it will be in focus. But other issues will also come up for discussions.”
Officials said the Bangladesh delegation will return home on Saturday, the day after the meeting.
It is unlikely that the team will have any other activities apart from attending the meeting, they added.