Myanmar’s latest move on verifying and repatriating the Rohingya people who have fled to Bangladesh over the years is a “trap” and Bangladesh should be cautious, a leading expert has warned.
Tanjim Uddin Khan, an associate professor at Dhaka University, was responding to assurances given by Myanmar that it would be prepared to accept the return of the hundreds of thousands of refugees sheltering in Bangladesh under the 1992 "Myanmar policy".
“It will be very difficult to repatriate the Rohingya under the 1992 agreement,” Tanjim Uddin Khan said. “Registering the Rohingya correctly is important (in order) to send them back. Dhaka could take help from a third international organisation in this regard.”
Naypyitaw has been insisting that it would take back Rohingya under the 1992 agreement and reiterated its stance following a meeting on Tuesday between de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s representative and Bangladesh Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali.
Suu Kyi - the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner who is facing mounting international pressure over the crisis - spoke herself about taking back Rohingya under the joint declaration on September 19.
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Shahidul Haque, the former defence attaché to Myanmar, said Bangladesh repatriated the Rohingya twice – in 1978 and 1992. Under the 1992 declaration, a total of 236,000 Rohingya were returned to Myanmar up to 2005.
“Myanmar always refers to the 1992 agreement but says nothing about the 1978 one because in the 1978 agreement, they had recognised the Rohingya as ‘Myanmar citizens by law’,” he said.
“The 1992 agreement talked about verification, which was totally in Myanmar’s hand.”
He pointed out that Bangladesh could provide a list of Rohingya but under the 1992 agreement, Myanmar would control the verification process.
“Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina handed a list of 6,000 Rohingya to Naypyitaw during her 2011 Myanmar visit for verification. But the verification process has not been completed in six years,” Shahidul Haque said.
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Buddhist-majority Myanmar does not recognise the Rohingya people and brands them as “illegal Bangladeshi immigrants”, despite the mainly-Muslim minority having lived within its borders for centuries.
The world’s largest stateless community has been forced to live in apartheid-like conditions in the north of Myanmar. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled Rakhine state to escape persecution over the years.
Myanmar’s sweeping military response to insurgent attacks on police posts and an army base on August 25 forced more than half a million Rohingya more to flee to Bangladesh – a country which already hosted 400,000 of them.
The UN has dubbed the Myanmar violence “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
The article was first published on Bangla Tribune