Bangladesh wants a strong and effective role of the Asean in the Rohingya repatriation as the regional bloc begins its four-day summit in Bangkok today.
Dhaka says the problem, created by Myanmar, is now turning into a regional crisis, with the Rohingyas spreading across the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). The crisis will aggravate in future if it is not resolved.
“As a member of Asean, Myanmar’s role is more important now than ever before,” Col (retd) Faruk Khan, chair of the parliamentary standing committee on the foreign ministry, told The Daily Star yesterday.
He led a parliamentary delegation to Thailand, the current chair of Asean, and Singapore, with the specific objective of convincing those countries to come forward with a stronger role in making sure that Myanmar creates conducive conditions in Rakhine for the return of the Rohingyas.
The delegation highlighted the negative consequences of the Rohingyas’ prolonged stay in Bangladesh and some other Asean countries, and requested them to strongly raise the Rohingya issue at the summit with due importance.
Faruk Khan said the parliamentary body was planning to visit Cambodia and Vietnam in January to discuss the issue.
Malaysia has been vocal on the issue since the beginning, but the other Asean nations need to be sensitised, he added.
The Asean traditionally doesn’t interfere in the internal issues of its member countries. At the previous summits, the organisation did not speak strongly about the Rohingya crisis, said former foreign secretary Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury.
“Asean countries, especially Singapore and Thailand, have very good trade relations with Myanmar. So, they don’t tend to raise the issues that can affect their relations,” he said.
The former diplomat said Myanmar seems not changing its attitude towards the Rohingya crisis although it faced global criticism for atrocities against the Rohingyas.
About 750,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh since August 2017, escaping a military crackdown on them. The UN had termed it a “classic example of ethnic cleansing”.
Despite two attempts of repatriation under a bilateral deal between Bangladesh and Myanmar, no Rohingya returned home, arguing that the conditions in Rakhine were not conducive yet and that there was no safety either. They also demanded guarantee of citizenship.
Talking to journalists at his ministry office on Thursday, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said, “With the two failed attempts of repatriation, it is now clear that Myanmar could not build trust among the Rohingyas. That is Myanmar’s failure.”
Myanmar claims that the situation in Rakhine is fine, but that needs to be verified by independent observers and Rohingyas, he added.
“We had proposed Myanmar to take representatives of the Rohingya community from Cox’s Bazar to Rakhine so they can see for themselves the situation and decide, but Myanmar didn’t agree.”
The minister said Bangladesh wants civilian observers from the Asean to monitor the situation in Rakhine, the repatriation process, and wellbeing of the Rohingyas after repatriation.
Noeleen Heyzer, member of the UN secretary-general’s high-level advisory board on mediation, said it was a good initiative that Myanmar sent a delegation from its foreign ministry, accompanied by ASEAN-Emergency Response and Assessment Team members, to hold a dialogue with the Bangladesh government and the Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar in late July this year.
The dialogue showed goodwill on both sides to engage in much-needed discussions about the repatriation process, and there were requests from the Rohingyas to have a follow-up dialogue in three months, but that has not happened, she wrote in a column in The Jakarta Post on Thursday.
“Myanmar will certainly need time to address fundamental issues in Rakhine state. In the meantime, however, we cannot afford to lose more trust and hope.”
She said the Asean should offer to facilitate a process of dialogues between Myanmar and Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar in order to build a foundation of trust needed for the voluntary repatriation of Rohingyas.
Noeleen also said,“Asean leaders must realise that its credibility was at stake in the way it handles the Rohingya crisis and that for all its efforts over the past year, the situation remains at an impasse.”