Bangladesh should change its approach in dealing with Myanmar, as repatriation of Rohingyas has almost stalled since Myanmar is not creating the conditions required for their return, international relations experts said.
Dhaka should communicate that it has proved its humanitarian responsibilities by sheltering a million Rohingyas, including the 750,000, who have fled the Myanmar military crackdown which began in August 2017.
Bangladesh has also been trying to solve the issue bilaterally but Myanmar has done little in this regard, they said.
The suggestions come before the Bangladesh-Myanmar Joint Working Group (JWG) meets for the fourth time in Naypyitaw today to discuss the Rohingya repatriation. Mahbub Uz Zaman, secretary-bilateral (Asia and Pacific) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will lead the Bangladesh side at the meeting, where repatriation would be the main focus, according to a foreign ministry official.
Prof Imtiaz Ahmed of international relations department at Dhaka University said Bangladesh had signed a bilateral deal in November 2017 for an amicable solution, despite the Rohingya crisis being an international issue. But there has been no real progress since then.
Myanmar, UN Refugee Agency and UNDP also signed a tripartite deal in June last year whereby UN agencies were allowed to assess the conditions in Rakhine.
The UN says the conditions there are not right for the Rohingya return. The Rohingyas too refused to return when Myanmar and Bangladesh began preparing for repatriation in November last year.
The situation in Rakhine has rather worsened now with the escalation of armed clashes between the Arakan Army, a Buddhist rebel group seeking autonomy in Rakhine, and the Myanmar army.
He said it seemed the crisis had protracted and it could not go on like this.
Imtiaz said Bangladesh had become a victim of the crisis despite not being a party to it at all, whereas Myanmar had created the problem and committed to creating conducive conditions for the Rohingya return but it had not done so.
It had not even amended its laws to guarantee citizenship to the Rohingyas and provide them with other rights, he said.
“Bangladesh should change its body language for several reasons. One is that Bangladesh’s elections are now over and the government has a five-year mandate, meaning that the country is politically stable.
“Bangladesh has to tell Myanmar that the Rohingya issue has been internationalised and it would face challenges in the international arena for the fact that a section of Myanmar military is facing accusations of genocide against the Rohingya,” he said.
Some in the west, including the European Union, have already started imposing sanctions against Myanmar. If Myanmar does not change its policies in regards to the Rohingyas and is not sincere in repatriating them, its economy would face bad days ahead, Imtiaz said.
“We should tell Myanmar that the quicker it addresses the problems, the better it is for Myanmar.”
If Myanmar is really sincere, it has to amend its laws, including the citizenship law, recognise the Rohingya as an ethnic group and ensure other rights for them, including the right to movement.
“Otherwise, why should the Rohingyas return?” he said.
He said without these the meetings of the joint working group would be just public shows to deceive the Rohingyas and the international community.
Migration and refugee affairs expert Asif Munier said Bangladesh had to take a strong stance while maintaining bilateral relations with Myanmar.
The meeting should stress on a clear roadmap and timeframe on repatriation because the crisis cannot continue for an indefinite period, he said.
After the meeting, the JWG has to inform the Rohingyas about its decisions as the community’s problems cannot be solved without engaging them.
“I think the JWG meetings should have included representatives from the Rohingya community. Last time, the authorities were prepared to repatriate them but then the Rohingyas did not agree. We should not create such situations in the future,” Asif Munier said.
Both the countries can also opt for track-two diplomacy, which means that independent experts of both the countries can hold meetings to advise the two governments, he said.
The two sides have to establish a goodwill so that the crisis is addressed and no one plays any blame-game. There should not be any provocative statements that can demean the discussions between the two countries, he added.