Bangladesh wants to formalise a timeframe with Myanmar for the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees who have fled their homeland in the face state-sponsored persecution.
The Bangladesh government wants to return all the Rohingyas who have entered the country since 1992.
Myanmar, however, is only prepared to accept the refugees who have crossed into Bangladesh since October last year, when a military crackdown prompted by Rohingya militant attacks on police outposts forced thousands of innocent civilians over the border.
A government official in Dhaka said Bangladesh hoped to ink a repatriation agreement during bilateral talks in Myanmar this week.
The matter will likely be discussed at the foreign secretary-level on Wednesday before it is finalised at the foreign minister-level meeting the next day, several sources said.
Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque has said that Bangladesh was continuing discussions and that both countries had presented their proposals. “Let’s see what happens,” he said on Monday.
Another government official in Dhaka said Bangladesh and Myanmar had sent each other six proposals during the talks.
Dhaka issued its first proposals to Naypyidaw on September 23 and again on October 2 during the visit of Myanmar’s union minister. Naypyidaw responded on October 20 and Bangladesh gave another proposal on November 2, the official said.
Myanmar forwarded a proposal in response to Dhaka’s offer on November 6 and Bangladesh gave a response two days later.
“The negotiation is still on,” the official said. “We want to sign an agreement on fixing a timeframe (but) there are disagreements on several issues. We are continuing discussions to get over them.”
Joint working group
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal met top Myanmar officials on a visit to Naypyidaw last month.
Both sides agreed on a 10-point proposal which included the formation of a joint working group by November 30 to finalise the repatriation process. Bangladesh has proposed the name of its foreign secretary to lead the group.
Another agreement would then be signed within a month, detailing the physical arrangements at the field level such as how many refugees will be repatriated each day, where will they stay in Rakhine, and the paperwork they will need to complete before going.
A day after the home mimister’s visit, however, Myanmar posted a statement on its Facebook page, excluding some of the decisions of the meeting.
“We want to add all necessary things to the proposal we are discussing so that Myanmar cannot speak otherwise,” the Bangladesh government official said, referring to the Facebook post.
In addition to disputing how many of the 1992 Rohingya refugees should be taken back, Naypyidaw also does not want to include any UN agencies in the repatriation process.
The Bangladesh government official said an agreement was signed with the UN refugee agency in 1993 under the 1992 Bangladesh-Myanmar agreement. As such, the situation could become complex if the UN is absent in the whole process.
Bangladesh had proposed joint scrutiny if there are differences between the information of Dhaka and Naypyidaw. But Myanmar has not agreed to it yet.
Myanmar also does not want Bangladesh to raise the Rohingya issue in the global arena after both countries have signed an agreement.
A government official clarified Dhaka’s stance, saying that bilateral relations and multilateral communication were not the same things.
The official said Bangladesh had been in this situation with Myanmar before.
“They took back only 236,000 Rohingya until 2005 under the 1992 agreement which did not mention any time frame for repatriation,” he said. “On the other hand, 240,000 Rohingya were repatriated under the 1978 agreement which had a six-month time limit.”
More than 600,000 mainly Muslim Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since August 25, when Myanmar launched a brutal counter-offensive under the pretext of an anti-insurgency operation.
Around 100,000 Rohingya had already crossed the border after a similar military crackdown in October last year.
Bangladesh had been hosting an estimated 300,000 Rohingya before that, which means a million Rohingya refugees are currently taking shelter in the country.
Myanmar does not recognise the Rohingya and forces many of them to live in apartheid-like condition in cramped camps. The Rohingya are often referred to as one of the most persecuted minorities and one of the largest stateless communities in the world.
The UN condemned the latest persecution of the Rohingya by Myanmar, calling it “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
UN member states adopted a resolution last week – despite opposition from China, Russia and some regional neighbours – urging Myanmar to end its military campaign and grant full citizenship rights to the Rohingya.
This article was first published on Bangla Tribune