Bangladesh proposes visit from Myanmar to directly interact with Rohingyas
As feared, the fourth meeting of the joint working group (JWG) of Bangladesh and Myanmar ended on Friday in Naypyidaw without any breakthrough in regard to the repatriation of Rohingyas, a process that was supposed to begin over 15 months ago.
While the Bangladesh ambassador to Myanmar termed the meeting "positive," some Bangladesh delegation members told Dhaka Tribune from Naypyidaw that no mention-worthy change in attitude was noticed among their counterparts regarding repatriation.
No decision was made in relation to the repatriation in the meeting and no probable time frame to begin the repatriation was agreed upon, they said.
However, the delegates said Myanmar appeared to be positive to Bangladesh’s proposal for a visit by a team from Naypyidaw to the Rohingya settlements in Cox’s Bazar, to speak to them directly about the condition in Rakhine.
Speaking about the meeting, Bangladesh Ambassador in Yangon Manjurul Karim Khan Chowdhury said: “The meeting was held in a cordial atmosphere and both sides were positive.”
Mahbub Uz Zaman, secretary-bilateral (Asia and Pacific) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, led the 13-member Bangladesh delegation to the fourth meeting of the JWG, formed to facilitate repatriation after the signing of a deal between Bangladesh and Myanmar in November 2017.
“I would not say that there has been any major changes to Myanmar’s attitude regarding repatriation,” said a senior member of the delegation. “However, I can say that Myanmar appears to be somewhat ready for deeper engagement on the issue and they want to keep discussions ongoing."
Another delegation member said: “We have proposed that they to send a team to interact with the Rohingyas and persuade them to return to their homes after creating a favourable condition for safe, dignified, and sustainable repatriation. The Myanmar side seemed positive about it.
“However, no time frame for the visit of any team or beginning of the repatriation was agreed upon,” he added.
The official also said if or when a team came to interact with the Rohingyas, the JWG would begin with the Rohingya who have already been verified by Myanmar.
“All in all, it can be said that we have to travel quite a way before the beginning of the repatriation,” he added.
Meanwhile, according to a Foreign Ministry press release, the JWG meeting had substantive discussions on all issues related to return of the Rohingyas to their homeland.
The Bangladesh delegation emphasized on concrete steps for creating an environment conducive to repatriation in Rakhine.
Bangladesh particularly stressed on removing legal and administrative barriers to ensure basic rights of the returnees, including freedom of movement, guaranteeing their safety and security, and positive steps towards a well-defined time-bound pathway to citizenship that would encourage the Myanmar residents to return voluntarily.
Dhaka stressed on early start of physical repatriation and urged Myanmar to remove all barriers preventing its commencement.
Both sides agreed to speed up the verification process.
Referring to the dispute on eligibility of over 2,000 prospective returnees from the first batch of verification, Bangladesh proposed to host the first meeting of the dispute settlement mechanism soon—to which Myanmar agreed.
Dhaka highlighted the need for deeper engagement between Myanmar authorities and prospective returnees with a view to convincing and motivating them.
Bangladesh also emphasized the need to allow greater engagement of the international community—including Asean and interested partners—in improving the ground situation in Rakhine, proposing appropriate mechanism for coordination of action among those actors to create greater confidence.
Dhaka also highlighted the need for sharing verifiable information on the ground situation in Rakhine so that prospective returnees could take informed decision.