Rohingya Refugees: Repatriation faces a hitch


The repatriation of Rohingyas is scheduled to begin tomorrow, but some of the major tasks including finalisation of the list of families and setting up of repatriation camps remain incomplete. This makes the start of repatriation on the announced date uncertain.

Moreover, the situation back in Myanmar’s Rakhine State has yet to be secure and congenial, prompting several foreign diplomats in Dhaka yesterday to reiterate their demands for safe, voluntary and dignified return of the refugees.

The diplomats, including the ones from the US, the UK and India, said it is necessary to have sustainable development in Rakhine State to create an environment for safe and sustainable return of Rohingyas.

Foreign Minister AH Mahmud Ali briefed the diplomats at the state guest house, Padma, in the capital days after Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a physical arrangement on repatriation on January 16.

The repatriation is set to begin tomorrow according to the terms of reference (ToR) of the Bangladesh-Myanmar Joint Working Group, signed after a foreign secretary-level meeting in Dhaka on December 19.

However, asked about the beginning of the repatriation tomorrow, Ali said, “I won’t give any date. But, you see, the process has already begun.”

Contacted, Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Abul Kalam said, “We are preparing the list of the Rohingya families as agreed in the Joint Working Group meeting.”

Over a million Rohingyas, including the 655,000 new ones, who crossed over from Myanmar since a brutal military crackdown began in Rakhine on August 25, have been brought under biometric registration.

The registration forms for the families were finalised on January 16 and the authorities are now making the list, he said, adding that the entire preparation takes some time.

A refugee has to provide information, including name, gender, birthplace, parents’ names, date of birth, address in Myanmar, profession, signs, number of family members and a family photo.

Bangladesh will hand over the list of Rohingya families to the Myanmar authorities. After verification, they will send a list of those whom they find eligible for repatriation.

Based on that list from Myanmar, Bangladesh will take the selected Rohingya families to the repatriation camps to be set up within Bangladesh near the borders. At the camps, the UN Refugee Agency will assess if the refugees are willing to return, Kalam said.

Those who agree to return voluntarily will be handed over to Myanmar authorities, he said. Those Rohingyas will be sheltered in a temporary camp on Myanmar side before Myanmar build homes for them.

“We are preparing to set up the repatriation camps,” Abul Kalam told The Daily Star yesterday.

Meanwhile, there are tensions in the Rohingya camps where they are demanding that Myanmar publicly announce it would grant the Rohingyas long-denied citizenship and include them on the list of the country’s recognised ethnic groups.

They are also asking that their homes, mosques and schools that were burned down or damaged in the military operation be rebuilt. They want the Myanmar military is held accountable for alleged killings and looting and rape.

Reuters reported that dozens of refugees stood holding cloth banners opposing their repatriation as UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee visited camps along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border on Saturday.

Yesterday, British High Commissioner Alison Blake said the return should be “safe, voluntary and dignified” so that it becomes sustainable, reports UNB.

US Ambassador in Dhaka Marcia Bernicat observed that Rohingyas are not willing to go back and that is the key challenge.

Emphasising on better livelihood for Rohingyas, Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka Harsh Vardhan Shringla, said, “We always believe there should be sustainable development in the Rakhine State in order to create an environment so that they feel to go back home.”

Bangladesh will sign a document with the UN Refugee Agency to carry forward the repatriation process.

“They [UNHCR] gave a draft memorandum of understanding (MoU). We’re working on it and we will sign it once finalised,” Foreign Minister Mahmood said.

Myanmar, however, does not want UNHCR’s involvement right now but wants the involvement of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). He said Myanmar agreed to involve the UNHCR when necessary but not now.

In order to ensure that the return is voluntary, Bangladesh has incorporated provisions for involvement of UNHCR and other relevant international organisations in the entire return process, he added.

The minister briefed diplomats from western and non-Muslim countries and diplomats from Muslim majority countries separately. Foreign Secretary M Shahidul Haque also attended the briefing.

Mahmood said Bangladesh also favours voluntary return and this was mentioned in the three documents so far signed with Myanmar over Rohingya repatriation.

He said Myanmar involved China, Japan and India for the development of Rakhine and he is likely to visit the Myanmarese state to see the progress.

Referring to the briefing, he said Bangladesh tried to create space for international actors in every phase of the return, resettlement and reintegration.

In this regard he referred to the initiatives of India, China and Japan in developing resettlement facilities in Rakhine State and encouraged the international community to offer similar helps to Myanmar.

*News Searching By Thedailystar*

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