International media outlets have reported last month and this month that incidents of armed conflict between 'Arakan Army' and Myanmar Army have become more frequent in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. This new development is likely to cloud the repatriation prospect of Rohingyas in Bangladesh to Myanmar.
In recent days, intensified conflict between the two sides has led to increased humanitarian consequences for civilian population leading to the displacement of nearly 5,000 people in Rakhine and Chin states in Myanmar. As a result, the situation is fragile in the parts of Myanmar where Rohingyas, currently residing in the refugee camps in Cox's Bazar, are supposed to return under the repatriation process. On the contrary, Rohingyas in smaller numbers are entering into Bangladesh from Myanmar.
Bangladesh and Myanmar had agreed to begin the repatriation of the first batch of Rohingyas by mid-November 2018. But that was halted.
In the meantime, persecuted Rohingyas who had fled to other countries were sent back to Bangladesh. The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has recently sought clarification from India about the return of Rohingyas from there while regretting India's decision. Living in different parts of India, there are an estimated 18,000 Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in India. Some Rohingyas who had tried to migrate to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were deported to Bangladesh.
On the other hand, the Myanmar government refused entry of Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights to Myanmar, and maintained its decision to not cooperate with her. Lee, who had earlier said that incidents in Rakhine state bear the "hallmarks of genocide" and called for accountability in the strongest terms, said that she still seeks to engage with the Myanmar government, and she remains committed to her mandate to monitor the situation of human rights in Myanmar. She has vowed to continue to meet people from Myanmar and speak out about human rights issues occurring in the country.
During a three-day visit to Bangladesh from January 19-22, she visited Rohingya camps in Bandarban and Cox's Bazar on January 21. She is expected to present her findings and recommendations about the ongoing crisis at the 40th session of the Human Rights Council in March 2019.
Additionally, Stephan Sakalian, Head of Delegation in Myanmar of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), has expressed concerns recently about the humanitarian consequences of latest armed clashes in Rakhine. Particularly it compounds an already precarious situation there, explained Sakalian while adding, that teams of ICRC have been active to assess and respond to the needs of affected communities in Rakhine for the past three weeks.
The ongoing situation in Rakhine state is enough to thwart the repatriation process off course. Bangladesh authorities have gone on record saying that they have heard about a few new entries into the country, but they are yet to verify the numbers. At the moment, the National Taskforce on Implementation of National Strategy on Myanmar Refugees and Undocumented Myanmar Nationals is reviewing the overall situation. They are trying to find the ways through which the international community can genuinely become engaged to resolve the crisis. At the same time, the proposed 2019 joint response plan is also under consideration to determine the funding mechanism and priority areas for Rohingya repatriation. Formal launching of the plan will be finalised soon.
Bangladesh needs active support and cooperation of the international community to expedite the process of repatriation of the Rohingya refugees to Myanmar.
Sarwar Md Saifullah Khaled is a retired Professor of Economics, BCS General Education cadre.
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