If Myanmar had lived up to its oral and written pledges, the Rohingyas would have been back home in Rakhine a year ago
For the last few days, apparently optimistic words with respect to the beginning of the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of persecuted Rohingyas sheltered in Cox's Bazar are coming from the hierarchies of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Actually, these are not their words. They are just relaying the words that Myanmar has said to them.
After a tripartite meeting among Bangladesh, Myanmar and China, Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen said that Dhaka was cautiously optimistic about Rohingya repatriation from the second quarter of 2021.
On January 22, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen said that a Myanmar minister had written to him expressing his country's commitment to start the repatriation in line with the deal signed between the two countries on November 23, 2017.
Well, given the history of Myanmar's shifting of goal posts from time to time, it will be not imprudent to conclude that both the foreign minister and foreign secretary are not convinced and hopeful about what their Naypyitaw counterparts have said, and there are ample reasons for this.
Myanmar had made many commitments regarding taking back the Rohingyas who were forced to cross the border to escape atrocities before late August, 2017. Setting aside those for a while, if the oral and in-paper commitments after the latest exodus in August, 2017, are taken into account, it is crystal clear how good Myanmar is when it comes to breaking promises.
According to the bilateral instrument signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar on November 23, 2017, the repatriation should have begun within January 22, 2018. The whole repatriation was to be complete by January 22, 2020. And, Myanmar was supposed to create a conducive environment for the return of the Rohingyas. However, one year after the passing of the deadline for the completion of the repatriation, Myanmar is expressing commitment to begin the return of the Rohingyas. Is it anything short of a mockery? perhaps, not.
Myanmar now wants more time to begin the repatriation, which was due more than three years ago. Foreign secretary-level joint working group was formed. The group also had held multiple meetings and agreed on the modalities.
So, everything is in place. All Myanmar needs to do is to provide a date for beginning the repatriation if it has will. Unfortunately, it is not willing to take back its own people. There would not be two failed attempts of starting the repatriation if Myanmar had the will.
The ground reality clearly demonstrates that Myanmar's words are not at all enough. The statements of their hierarchies cannot, unfortunately, be taken seriously. And, Bangladesh must not relax based on what Myanmar says. Undertaking a 'seeing is believing' approach, Dhaka must press Naypyitaw as hard as possible to do something visible to reflect its seriousness as regards to the repatriation. By doing so, Myanmar will not do any favour to Bangladesh, rather it will fulfill its obligation to take its own people back, which is their inherent right.