Rohingya Refugees: Repatriation faces a hitch
The return 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 to reiterate yesterday 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, Mahmud 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 first meeting of Joint Working Group."
Over a million Rohingyas, including the 655,000 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 refugee families were finalised on January 16 and the authorities are now making the list, he said, adding that the entire preparation needs some time.
A refugee has to provide information, including name, gender, birthplace, parents' names, date of birth, address in Myanmar, profession, 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 the persons 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 border. At the camps, the UN Refugee Agency will assess if the refugees are willing to return, Kalam said.
The refugees 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 homes are built for them.
"We are preparing to set up the repatriation camps," Abul Kalam told The Daily Star yesterday.
Meanwhile, tensions mounted in the Rohingya camps where refugees are demanding that Myanmar publicly announce it would grant them 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.
ENSURE DIGNIFIED RETURN
After the briefing yesterday, British High Commissioner Alison Blake told journalists that the return should be "safe, voluntary and dignified" so that it becomes sustainable, reports UNB.
Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka Harsh Vardhan Shringla stressed the need for better livelihood of Rohingyas and said, “We always believe there should be sustainable development in Rakhine State to create an environment so that they feel to go back home.”
BANGLADESH TO SIGN DOCUMENT WITH UNHCR
Bangladesh will sign a document with the UN Refugee Agency to carry forward the repatriation process.
“They [UNHCR] gave us a draft memorandum of understanding (MoU). We're working on it and we will sign it once finalised,” Foreign Minister Mahmood said.
Myanmar, however, wants the involvement of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), not the UNHCR. The minister said Myanmar agreed to involve the UNHCR when it's necessary but not now.
To ensure that the return is voluntary, Bangladesh has incorporated provisions for involvement of UNHCR and other relevant international organisations in the entire 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.