Rohingya return: Talks get nowhere
Nearly five years into the largest Rohingya influx, the process of repatriation remains confined only to talks with the international funding declining for the forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals.
The bilateral talks between Bangladesh and Myanmar to initiate the repatriation had been suspended for over two years amid the military rule in the neighbouring country and also the coronavirus pandemic.
The dialogue resumed this January but it has yet to yield any definitive outcome.
On Tuesday, in the fifth meeting of the Joint Working Group (JWG), formed in 2017 for the repatriation of Rohingyas, Bangladesh wanted Myanmar to expedite the verification of refugees to fast-track their repatriation.
Both Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed to work on addressing problems over verification and holding regular meetings of JWG and Technical Working Group for early commencement of Rohingya return.
Experts think that in the name of verification, Myanmar is basically buying time, and if the root causes of the Rohingya genocide are not addressed, the repatriation will not begin anytime soon.
They also said the international community must put pressure on the Myanmar rulers to take back Rohingyas and grant them citizenship.
"Western countries imposed a number of sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine crisis. If half the sanctions were for Myanmar, the military government would have started the repatriation," Prof Imtiaz Ahmed of Dhaka University international relations department told The Daily Star yesterday.
He, however, warned that the Myanmar government may start a token repatriation but Bangladesh should be very cautious.
"Through this token repatriation, the Myanmar government will try to prove that there was no genocide in that country. So, the Rohingyas should be given citizenship by the Myanmar government first and the rest will follow," said Prof Imtiaz, also director at the Centre for Genocide Studies, Dhaka University.
Bangladesh had handed over the names of 8.4 lakh Rohingyas to Myanmar but so far only about 42,000 have been verified.
Despite a number of attempts, the Rohingyas could not be repatriated as they refused to return on the grounds that the conditions in Rakhine State were not conducive and there was no guarantee of citizenship back home.
In January's technical-level meeting of "Ad-Hoc Task Force for Verification of the Displaced Persons from Rakhine", Bangladesh expressed dismay over the slow pace of verification of past residency by Myanmar.
Dhaka also offered all cooperation under the three bilateral instruments for fast completion of the verification process.
In the meantime, humanitarian agencies need more than $881 million this year for humanitarian support to Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar and Bhasan Char, and also the host communities, according to the UNHCR.
But as of last month, only 13 percent of the fund required for the Joint Response Plan has been received.
The situation is so grave that United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi in a visit to the Rohingya camp appealed to the world for sustained and predictable support to Rohingya refugees and the local host communities in Bangladesh.
"The world must remember the crisis that Rohingya refugees and their hosts have been facing for the last five years. The refugees' lives depend on how the international community responds in caring for them," Grandi said, after visiting the refugee camps in Cox's Bazar and Bhasan Char island, on May 25.
He also said, "The Rohingya refugees I met reiterated their desire to return home when conditions allow. The world must work to address the root causes of their flight and to translate those dreams into reality."
Nearly 7,50,000 Rohingyas faced a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine State in August 2017 and took shelter in Bangladesh to join around three lakh others who fled previous waves of persecutions.
Despite global pressure, including a genocide case under trial at the International Court of Justice, the Rohingya repatriation did not happen.
"Repatriation is a critical issue for both the government and the Rohingyas," said Jahangirnagar University International Relations Professor Shahab Enam Khan.
"Bangladesh has pursued a multi-track approach to facilitate repatriation, but the process continues to remain stifled due to a lack of meaningful commitment and initiatives from the Myanmar side, particularly Tatmadaw [the armed forces of Myanmar]."
He thinks repatriation will become appealing to the Rohingyas only if Myanmar guarantees that none of them will end up in internally displaced person (IDP) camps or become subject to further persecution
To change the stalemate in Rakhine State, opening channels of communication with Myanmar's national unity government in exile or perhaps empowering the Rohingyas to negotiate with the Tatmadaw seems to be a necessity, Prof Shahab added.
"The global community should take note that the Rohingya issue can go out of control for the regional countries with far-fetching spillover effects," he told this correspondent in a WhatsApp message.
Major General (Retd) ANM Muniruzzaman, president of Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS), said the whole dynamics of the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh is changing.
"Primarily, the reason for the change is their longer stay in Bangladesh without any practical hope of going back to Myanmar."
Rohingyas are now becoming a source of security threat, which is manifested in various activities like drug peddling, human trafficking, presence of small arms presence and trafficking and other criminal activities, he added.
"There is a potential link with other groups outside Bangladesh. The Rohingya refugee crisis is now entering a phase where they are becoming a security threat for Bangladesh and also for the region."
According to sources in law enforcement agencies, a total of 104 were killed, 89 women were raped, 52 abduction incidents were reported, 34 cases of human trafficking were recorded in the last four years and Rohingyas were involved in all these incidents.
Besides, the presence of a Myanmar insurgent group called Arsa in Bangladesh has been widely debated in recent time as refugees and experts believe its members are active in the Cox's Bazar Rohingya camps.
The issue came to the fore prominently after the murder of popular Rohingya leader Mohib Ullah last year.
However, the government has maintained this group does not exist in Bangladesh and that some criminals might have falsely identified themselves as Arsa operatives to intimidate the refugees.