Safe repatriation must be the goal
During the 12th Foreign Office Consultation (FOC) between Dhaka and Beijing, China reiterated its commitment to early repatriation of Rohingyas to the Rakhine state. While China's intervention and the "pilot repatriation plan" have shone a ray of hope on the six-year crisis, we must not forget that this is the third initiative taken at China's behest. The previous two yielded no results, due to Myanmar backtracking on its promises and failing to take accountability. A proper timeline is yet to be established in the pilot plan, which raises questions about Myanmar's sincerity on the matter. China has repeatedly championed the bilateral route in the international community, arguing against sanctions to discipline the Myanmar military. For repatriation to be a sustained process, it has to be agreed upon by all stakeholders in the international fora. Otherwise, it runs the risk of becoming a one-off repatriation, with China playing to the world gallery.
Two recent attempts of repatriation in May failed as no Rohingya volunteered to return to Myanmar, arguing that they lack guarantee of citizenship and security as their villages have been turned into displacement camps. Five refugees who went on the "go-and-see visit" on May 5, in coordination with Bangladesh and Myanmar's junta, expressed their fear of history repeating itself. About 600,000 Rohingyas in Rakhine state remain confined to squalid camps, according to the Human Rights Watch. Given the violence the Rohingyas have suffered in the Rakhine state, for which they fled to Bangladesh in the first place, safe and voluntary repatriation would only be possible if Myanmar's military government puts a stop to the systematic persecution of the community.
The US and others have warned that Myanmar is not yet conducive to the Rohingya's safety but has not prioritised the urgent need for repatriation from Bangladesh's end. The UN Security Council passed the first ever resolution last year to address "military violence" in Myanmar. However, as we have seen over the course of the current protracted crisis, international actors have failed to create the critical pressure on Myanmar needed to render repatriation a possibility. The financial burden to support Rohingyas in Bangladesh, while the nation battles with economic turmoil, has become a critical issue. For Bangladesh's sake, we back efforts for early repatriation, but for this plan to follow through, the international community must step foot on the pedal and come together to ensure that Myanmar creates a state that is conducive to the safe repatriation of the Rohingya.