Dhaka has agreed to a request from Naypyidaw to replace the words “Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals” with “Displaced Persons From Rakhine State” on identity cards issued to Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar.
As a result, the Rohingyas will have to return to their homeland without any identity and they will continue to be considered stateless.
The request was accepted during a ministerial meeting between Bangladesh Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali and Myanmar Minister of the Office of the State Counsellor Kyaw Tint Swe in Naypyidaw on August 10.
At the meeting, Myanmar officials raised an objection about the words “Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals” used on the ID cards.
They argue that those who fled to Bangladesh from Rakhine “are not Myanmar citizens, but they used to live in Rakhine”, said official sources.
The Bangladesh side agreed on changing the words to “Displaced Persons From Rakhine State,” the sources said, without making it clear when Dhaka would issue amended ID cards to the Rohingyas.
Myanmar government has said it will issue National Verification Card (NVC) to Rohingyas on their return.
“Upon their arrival, Myanmar Government will issue the NVC cards which can later be used to apply for citizenship. Holders of the NVC will be able to enjoy rights such as freedom of movement in Rakhine State and access to services in terms of education and healthcare etc,” Lwin Oo, Myanmar Ambassador to Bangladesh, earlier told The Daily Star.
Talking to this newspaper yesterday, a foreign ministry official said Dhaka agreed to the change in the ID cards in light of an agreement signed between the two countries on November 23 last year on the Rohingya repatriation.
He said they took the Myanmar request into consideration as the words “Displaced Persons From Rakhine State” are clearly written on the agreement.
“As our target is to ensure safe, dignified and voluntary repatriation of the Rohingyas as early as possible, we are taking the sensitivity of the issue into our consideration,” the official added.
Diplomatic sources in Dhaka said the government and the UN Refugee Agency in Bangladesh (UNHCR) on June 21 began a comprehensive and unified database of Rohingya refugees, who fled from Myanmar, and are expected to complete the task by end of this year.
They said preparation of the credit-card-sized plastic ID, containing a number of anti-fraud features, is going on in full-swing. The cards have already been distributed among around 12,000 Rohingyas.
Foreign ministry officials said the back of the cards had a brief mention of how and when Rohingyas came to Bangladesh. “But now the card will be very simple,” said a senior official of the ministry.
The card is also being made using biometric data, including iris scans and fingerprints, as well as photographs to confirm individual identities. All refugees over the age of 12 will be provided with identity cards, UNHCR officials said.
The verification and data-base exercise involved around 150 UNHCR and partner staffers, as well as government officials and community mobilisers. The process will cover all of the refugees previously registered with the Ministry of Home Affairs.
On Myanmar's request to stop providing humanitarian assistance to 6,000 Rohingyas stranded on the boundary line (Zero Line) between border pillars 34 and 35, foreign ministry officials said Bangladesh government was not involved in providing aid to those people on the Zero Line. So it has nothing to do with that and stressed the need for early settlement of the displaced people stranded there.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh responded positively to Myanmar's proposal to conduct a fresh joint survey of the boundary line between border pillars 34 and 35.
Talking about last week's visit to Maungdaw township in Rakhine by a high-profile delegation, led by Ali, ministry officials said out of the 20 members of the team, only six members, including the minister and the foreign secretary, were allowed to visit northern Rakhine State. The rest of the delegation members stayed in Sittwe District.
A delegation member, who stayed in Sittwe with other members, said they were taken to several places of the township but were not allowed to speak with the locals. “We were heavily guarded by law enforcers and others and toured the city only. Though we could not go to Maungdaw Township, we gained some important insight into Sittwe.”
An official said the team led by the minister saw the trail of widespread devastation in Maungdaw Township.
The delegation members saw five to six storied buildings at a place in Sittwe where about 400 rich Rohingyas were said to be still staying. The colony type area had heavy boundary walls and the entry was locked, added the official.