Authorities to continue interviewing families enlisted for repatriation with the hope to find the ones willing to go
Despite much anticipation, the second attempt to repatriate some of the Rohingyas from Bangladesh to Myanmar has failed to start due to the complete unwillingness of the refugees.
The authorities were ready to send back any of willing Rohingyas through the Kerontoli Ghat border point at Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar and Tambru border point at Ghumdhum in Bandarban’s Naikhongchhari.
But the plan to kick off the repatriation process on Thursday fell on its face and was eventually delayed, when none of the Rohingyas turned up between 10am and 4pm to join the motorcade that was set to take them to the border.
However, officials of the Refugee Relief and Repatriate Commission (RRRC) and UNHCR expressed hope that the Rohingyas will start trusting the process and choose to return to their homeland in Rakhine state, Myanmar.
The Rohingyas have said that they want to go back to their homeland, but only after the Myanmar government meets their five demands, which, they stressed, are prerequisite for them.
They said they were expecting the Myanmar government to hold discussions first with them about meeting their demands. But since that did not happen and Myanmar suddenly came up with the list of 1,037 families – 3,540 refugees – for repatriation, they felt betrayed.
The UN refugee agency and RRRC, between Tuesday and Thursday, interviewed 295 of those families at the Camp No 26 in Teknaf’s Shalbagan. The list of Rohingyas cleared for the repatriation was handed over to Dhaka by Naypyidaw recently.
Addressing a press briefing outside the camp-in-charge’s (CIC) office on Thursday afternoon, RRRC Commissioner Md Abul Kalam formally said: “The Rohingya repatriation is not starting today [Thursday].
“I have previously said that the interview process will continue from 9am to 4pm. We have not found anyone yet [who wants to go back willingly]. But it cannot be speculated that we will not find anyone else during the rest of the days.”
He said the interviews will continue every day till all the enlisted families were interviewed. For now, the refugees will continue to take shelter in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps.
The coastal district currently hosts, in at least 30 camps, more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees, over 700,000 of whom fled from Rakhine in the face of brutal persecution carried out by Myanmar security forces, local Buddhist mobs and people from different ethnic groups since August 25, 2017.
Interviews to continue
The RRRC commissioner said the interviews of the Rohingyas will continue. “After completing the interviews of all enlisted Rohingya families at Shalbagan camp, we will be able to confirm f any of them are willing to go back or not.
“Of the families we have interviewed so far, we have found none who are willing to go back now. But we hope that they will change their minds.”
Also Read- No Rohingya turn up for repatriation
Kalam continued: "I would like to stress that a high-level team from Myanmar had visited Cox’s Bazar on July 27-28,"
"They held meetings with the different Rohingya groups during those two days, and we have seen the positive impact of that. The number of Rohingya people who have voluntarily come in for interviews is high this time around."
"The safety and security measures we have taken so far have also assured them that they have nothing to fear and we have convinced them that they will not be repatriated forcibly," he said. "That is why they came in on their own volition and have shared their concerns with us. This process will continue.”
The authorities of Bangladesh and Myanmar had tried to send back some Rohingya families in November last year. But that attempt had failed miserably.
UNHCR in a statement issued on Thursday said its saw Myanmar’s engagement in this process as a positive step in the affirmation of the right to return of Rohingya refugees.
The voluntary repatriation of the refugees would require the continuous engagement of all concerned to build the trust of refugees, and is a process, not a one-off event, said the UN refugee agency.
It said it remained committed to its role in supporting both governments in this process.
“Together with UNDP, UNHCR is supporting the Myanmar government’s efforts through the implementation of quick impact projects to improve conditions for all communities in Rakhine state and promote social cohesion between them, so that the voluntary return and reintegration of refugees is possible.
“However, it is essential that UNHCR and UNDP have more predictable and effective access to refugees’ places of origin and potential areas of return in Rakhine state.”
Myanmar diplomat keeps mum
Apart from the RRRC commissioner, an official from the Myanmar Embassy in Dhaka and two officials from the Chinese Embassy in Dhaka who attended Thursday's press briefing had faced a barrage of questions.
The Myanmar official was not introduced during the briefing and he also did not respond to any questions from the reporters addressed at him.
When asked why the Myanmar government was not allowing the UN and journalists to visit the transit camps built to keep the repatriated Rohingyas in order to build trust, the Myanmar diplomat did not answer.
The RRRC later confirmedto Dhaka Tribune that the Myanmar official was its embassy’s Second Secretary Nyein Chan Zaw.
Responding to a query over establishing trust and security, Chinese Embassy’s Political Division Director Zheng Tianzhuo said: “I believe that the last visit of the Myanmar permanent secretary from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have already showed a signal for the sincerity of persuading those displaced persons or at least briefing them about the current developed situation in Rakhine state.
“We are here today to encourage this kind of collaborations or efforts [taken] both by the Bangladesh and Myanmar governments,” he said, and added that someone has to take initiative to kick off the process.
Tianzhuo said: “We believe that it’s an ongoing process… repatriation could start any day as long as they are willing and ready.”
Replying to another question, he said: “Nobody can promise to persuade a sovereign country to amend its domestic law over one night. China has already tried its best to convey the massages either from Bangladesh or from the international community to the Myanmar side.”
Also Read- UNHCR: Any repatriation must be voluntary
He added that continuous dialogue and communication between Bangladesh and Myanmar governments over all these issued needed to be encouraged more by all.
Repatriation since 2018
Under immense international pressure, Myanmar had signed an agreement with Bangladesh in January 2018 to take back the Rohingyas.
Following a series of painstaking discussions between a proactive Bangladesh and an unwilling Myanmar, the two countries attempted to begin repatriation on November 15 last year, but the effort failed mainly due to the unwillingness of the Rohingyas, and objections from the international community on different grounds.
The refugees had maintained that there was no guarantee that Myanmar will ensure their dignified return and establish their identity as Myanmar nationals.
Since the failed attempt, there has been no further development in the repatriation process- until now.
Additional reporting by Staff Reporter Kamrul Islam and Cox's Bazar Correspondent Abdul Aziz