Repatriation of Rohingya refugees -- who fled a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar in August 2017 -- can begin anytime, foreign secretary Shahidul Haque said yesterday at a discussion.
“Repatriation is always on the table. It can start anytime. It is a continual process,” Shahidul Haque said while responding to a journalist’s query on whether the repatriation of Rohingyas will start on August 22 as reported by an international news agency.
Reuters on Thursday reported that Myanmar and Bangladesh have agreed to start a fresh attempt to repatriate Rohingyas on August 22.
The Red and Green Research, an initiative of journalists, organised the discussion on ‘Rohingya crisis: way forward’ at the BIISS auditorium.
Nearly 7,50,000 Rohingyas fled Rakhine State for Bangladesh after a military-led crackdown in August 2017. The United Nations said the perpetrators had “genocidal intent”.
Previous attempts at persuading Rohingyas to return to Rakhine failed due to the refugees’ unwillingness. An initiative to repatriate Rohingyas in November 2018 failed after the refugees protested.
Rohingyas at that time said they want to return to Myanmar, but seek guarantee of citizenship, UN-backed safe zone in Rakhine, recognition of their ethnicity as Rohingya and return to the place from where they were driven out.
“Repatriation [of Rohingays] has always been one of the priority issues for Bangladesh. We are always saying that the peaceful solution to the crisis is Rohingyas going back to their homeland. We have never suggested any alternatives,” Shahidul said.
He said that Bangladesh would try to encourage Rohingyas to return to their homeland in the next couple of weeks.
“If they don’t go back, they will be deprived of all rights, not just land rights. For their own interest, I think they should volunteer to go back to their homeland,” he said.
“Going back to their own homeland does not mean that we are asking them to forget about the issues of justice and accountability. The process to ensure justice and accountability has already begun and it will continue irrespective of their return,” he added.
Taking part in the discussion, former chief of National Human Rights Commission Mizanur Rahman said he doubts whether the international community is sincere about resolving the Rohingya crisis.
“The initial response of Bangladesh to the Rohingya crisis was weak and disorientated,” he alleged.
“Bangladesh believed that Myanmar is a peace-loving neighbour and through bilateral talks and means with the assistance of big brother India and newly adopted big brother China, the problem will be resolved within a foreseeable future,” he said.
“But to our utter dismay, we found that we don’t have either India or China, or even Russia, on our side. And that was immensely frustrating for the foreign ministry, government and people of the country” he added.
In response, Shahidul said he does not feel they were ever frustrated by the response, because every country has its national interest.
“We have discussions both bilaterally and multilaterally. We are using all the tools that we have, including talking to our regional friends regarding the issue,” he added.
Munshi Faiz Ahmad, a former ambassador of Bangladesh to China, moderated the discussion where journalist and The Red and Green Research director Shahidul Islam Chowdhury presented keynote paper.