Bangladesh yesterday gave Myanmar a fresh list of Rohingyas for their repatriation, which has not yet begun in nearly two years after the influx.
Bangladesh’s acting foreign secretary Kamrul Ahsan said the list with names of 25,000 Rohingyas of 6,000 families was handed over to a Myanmar delegation during a meeting at the state guesthouse Meghna.
The meeting was held between Bangladesh foreign ministry officials, led by Kamrul, and the Myanmar team, led by the country’s Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Myint Thu.
On Saturday and Sunday, the visiting delegation met with Rohingyas in their camps in Cox’s Bazar to convince the refugees to return to Myanmar.
Rohingya repatriation has been a contentious issue as the UN says the conditions in Rakhine are not conducive to their return.
On the other hand, the situation has worsened since clashes between Arakan Army and Myanmar army intensified early this year.
Earlier, Bangladesh had handed over lists of some 30,000 Rohingyas in two phases for verification of their identity, but only 8,000 of them were verified. However, they were not willing to go back to Myanmar when repatriation was scheduled to begin on November 15 last year, a year after signing of an agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Rohingyas say they want guarantee of citizenship, freedom of movement, recognition of ethnic identity and return to their place of origin from where they were uprooted during a crackdown since August 25, 2017.
Some 750,000 Rohingyas fled the violence to Bangladesh and joined about 300,000 others who had fled earlier waves of violence.
After the meeting yesterday, Kamrul told reporters that building trust among the Rohingyas was a major issue.
“One such visit can’t solve these issues. They [Myanmar] need to come more to create confidence among them [Rohingyas],” he told reporters, reports UNB.
The acting foreign secretary said Rohingyas would not go back to their homes until the trust was rebuilt. “We won’t force anybody to go against their will.”
Myanmar’s Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Myint Thu said they were trying to convince the Rohingyas to go back to Myanmar, but Rohingya representatives, during their discussions at Rohingya camps, smiled when they were requested to return.
“I asked them [Rohingyas] that this is the right time for them to consider whether they should go back or not because we explained to them the key issues. So, this is their personal decision,” he told reporters.
On the slow progress of repatriation from the Myanmar side, Myint Thu claimed they have been ready for the repatriation since January 23, 2018.
“We’re ready to welcome them… we’re ready to receive them. But the only thing is they have to decide it themselves. We’ve provided them with information. We’ve heard their voices and concerns.”
Myint Thu said this time they brought representatives from the Asean, which conducted the preliminary need assessment in Northern Rakhine in March this year and they shared their experiences.
“We’ll continue to engage with people through a joint working group mechanism, as well as our collaboration with the government of Bangladesh,” he said highlighting their cooperation with Asean friends.
The Myanmar delegation leader said they would continue to discuss the repatriation as well as how they would cooperate between the two governments, Asean member states and friendly countries to help accelerate the verification and repatriation process.
A representative of Asean, who attended the meeting, said what they did in Northern Rakhine was a preliminary need assessment to review the repatriation plan, assess the readiness of the facilities and find the areas for collaboration.
“This is part of a series of assessments,” he said indicating that they may expand the assessment in Cox’s Bazar.
The official also said the Rohingya community wanted that their voices need to be heard. “And we want to listen to them.”
Commenting on Asean’s involvement, Kamrul said, “We would say this is a good sign. It can be said the repatriation process is moving in the good direction.”
A foreign ministry official told The Daily Stat the fact that Myanmar delegation has directly talked to the Rohingyas and wished to continue the dialogue was somewhat “melting of ice”.
He said the Bangladesh side has requested a meeting in a month with the Myanmar officials dealing the verification of Rohingya identities.
“We raised the issue why identity of only 8,000 Rohingyas were verified when we had earlier handed over list of some 30,000. Myanmar officials agreed to hold the meeting but said they need approval from their higher authorities,” the official said.
Kamrul said UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener was serving as a bridge between the UN system and the government of Myanmar on the issues of Rakhine.
“So, she’s helping us resolve the issues,” he said.
Myint Thu said the factsheet that they prepared and circulated in the camps included Christine’s suggestions. “So, we came up with a factsheet providing information on the repatriation process, access to justice, access to education, health and social services and then citizenship issues.”