The joint move by the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar to start repatriation of the Rohingya refugees from today (Thursday) has drawn flak from different quarters.
Experts concerned opined that the repatriation move is a ‘diplomatic maneuvering’ by Myanmar as part of its ‘damage control’ measure ahead of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), scheduled to start in the last week of September.
They also said the ongoing repatriation move without ensuring a conducive environment in Rakhine will only benefit Myanmar. The country, accused of unleashing brutal persecution against the Rohingyas, is under pressure from the international community.
“It has become clear that the repatriation is a diplomatic strategy of Myanmar. So, Bangladesh should remain careful about the move,” Dr Imtiaz Ahmed of the International Relations Department of the Dhaka University told the FE on Wednesday.
The UNGA is going to take place in September. So, Myanmar wants to show the world that the country is ready to take back the Rohingya refugees.
“But the issue is Bangladesh is committed to repatriate the Rohingyas when their safety and rights are ensured. If Myanmar authorities do not amend their present laws concerned, they cannot award citizenship to these people.”
“Bangladesh has to see whether Myanmar has given any assurance to change its laws or not,” he opined.
Until Wednesday evening, the Refugee Rehabilitation and Repatriation Centre (RRRC) has completed interviews of 235 families to assess their voluntariness to go back to Rakhine.
But an official of the RRRC, preferring anonymity, said none of the families has expressed willingness to return under the present circumstances.
Talking to the FE, the RRRC Chairman Md Abul Kalam said, “We have taken all necessary preparations for the repatriation. Whoever wants to go back, we will repatriate him/her.
When asked how many of the verified Rohingyas expressed their willingness to go back right now, he said, “I am yet to get any report (in this regard) from my subordinates.”
Talking to the FE on the government’s efforts, Foreign Minister Dr A K Abdul Momen said Bangladesh cannot keep a huge number of refugees forever.
“The Rohingyas also want to return to Myanmar, but some NGOs are instigating them not to go back.”
“We do not want to repatriate any Rohingya refugee by force. All should cooperate with us to expedite the repatriation,” he added.
Meanwhile, a number of local, national and international humanitarian agencies have expressed their deep concern over the present move of repatriation.
The current level of engagement does not ensure the Rohingya people’s right to make informed decisions about their future, including voluntary return to Rakhine, they noted.
Sixty one such non-government organisations (NGOs) came up with the remarks in a joint statement on Wednesday.
They expressed their concerns over possibility of deteriorating the crisis in Myanmar, and also called for the refugees’ engagement in safe and voluntary return.
The NGOs came up with the call to the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar following the news of repatriating 3,450 Rohingya refugees to Rakhine this week.
In the statement, they said the conditions in Myanmar are not conducive to the refugees’ return at this time. There is no meaningful development in practicing human rights and ensuring free movement of the Rohingya people in Rakhine.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement on Wednesday, said the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh should suspend the plan to repatriate the Rohingya refugees until (it is ensured that) their returns are safe, voluntary and dignified.
With the new move of repatriation, set to start on Thursday, the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh camps protested, saying that they will face the same violence and oppression in Myanmar, from which they fled.
The Myanmar authorities concerned have verified 3,454 refugees for an initial round of repatriation from a list of 22,000 people, submitted by the Bangladesh authorities.
The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, and the Bangladesh government said they are seeking to confirm that these refugees wish to return.
“We know that thousands of the Rohingya people in Myanmar are still in detention camps,” one refugee told the HRW, referring to an estimated 125,000 Rohingyas, who have been confined to open-air camps in Central Rakhine State since 2012.
“If those people are released and can return to their own villages, then we will perceive that it is safe to return, and will go back to our home.”
The refugees called on the Myanmar government to ensure their full citizenship rights as well as to return their lands and properties to them. They also demanded compensation for loss of homes and businesses that the military regime destroyed.
More than 740,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh since August 2017 to escape the Myanmar military’s ‘ethnic cleansing’ and crimes against humanity.
Bangladesh and Myanmar previously attempted a repatriation in November 2018, without consulting the UNHCR or the Rohingyas. As a result, the refugees, included in the list for return, went into hiding, and refused to leave.
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