‘Many hurdles there to cross before repatriation’

'Absence of third-party, int'l body to monitor progress most surprising, worrying'
Rohingya Children
Rohingya children playfully slide down a sloping road at Balukhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazary. File photo: Reuters

Though Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a repatriation arrangement document to start a process in next two months, there are too many hurdles to get over before any repatriation to commence, says an international analyst.

"I'm afraid that within the period stipulated in the signed instrument Myanmar may rush and eventually engage in a small-scale symbolic repatriation to fend off international pressure," Prof Ali Riaz told UNB in an interview.

Amid growing international pressure, Myanmar signed a bilateral document with Bangladesh on Rohingya repatriation on Thursday with no ending deadline amid high hopes that the forcibly displaced Rohingyas will start returning to their homeland within the next two months.

Over 622,000 Rohingyas have crossed the border and taken shelter in Cox's Bazar district since August 25 amid persecution by Myanmar military in their Rakhine State.

Prof Riaz of the Department of Politics and Government at Illinois State University, USA said history clearly indicates of such strategy of the Myanmar regime.

"The 'instrument' may neither ensure repatriation of all Rohingya refugees nor allow Bangladesh to involve the international community if the process gets stalled," he said.

The absence of a third-party, particularly an international body, to monitor the progress of the implementation is the most surprising and worrying to him, he said posing a question, "If a dispute arises how will it be resolved?"

Responding to a question, the analyst said the current document is only a precursor to the 'physical instrument' as mentioned in the document made public by both governments.

"Therefore, the main challenge is to sign and implement a mutually acceptable, effective and workable instrument with a specific deadline and signposts along the way," he said.

Prof Riaz said it has to include the modus operandi of the dispute resolution. "But, the most important challenge is to come to an agreement about the 'identification' of the Myanmar citizens taken refuge in Bangladesh and the specific modalities of repatriation."

He also said, "What's the legal standing of the 'instrument'? It's neither an MOU nor an agreement. Whether it is legally binding to each party is not clear."

After the signing, Myanmar says it is a win-win situation for two countries.

Sought his views on Myanmar 's such claim, Prof Riaz said, "Unfortunately, I don't see it a 'win-win' solution."

Bangladesh Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali on October 2 said the 1992 agreement is inadequate, but, according to Myanmar government, this instrument is on the basis of the 1992 agreement.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guteras, in his statement to the UNSC on September 28, underscored the inadequacy of the 1992 agreement. "As of now, the instrument is lopsided. We'll have to wait to see whether the second instrument can address these issues. But, the lack of clarity only benefits Myanmar," Prof Riaz said.

Prof Riaz said China has been insisting on a bilateral solution from the beginning of the crisis instead of an internationally-mediated one. "The current developments seem to be consistent with its line of diplomacy."

He also said, "The Bangladesh government, particularly the Foreign Ministry, will be able to tell us whether Bangladesh faced any pressure from China, but evidently the actions of the government show that its leaning on a bilateral solution."

While bilateral negotiations are necessary for bringing an end to the crisis, the question is whether a bilateral mechanism without international involvement is the right course of actions, Prof Riaz said.

Myanmar government sources said applications forms will be sent to Bangladesh for the Rohingyas to fill up with their personal details and the completed forms will be returned to Myanmar for verification. If these personal details are all right, the repatriation will be arranged immediately.

The Myanmar government has prepared new villages to accommodate the refugees, including the Taung Pyo Letwe and Nga Khu Ya villages in Maungdaw township, according to Myanmar media.

Union Minister for Social Welfare Relief and Resettlement Dr Win Myat Aye said Myanmar is not shirking from its responsibility to the more than 600,000 refugees from Northern Rakhine now living in squalid makeshifts camps in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.

"We would like to actually implement it (repatriation) because it's our responsibility. Regardless of the reason for fleeing their homes, we've to accept them back. It's the duty of the State," he was quoted as saying on the eve of the deal signing.

"In whichever ways they migrated, to arrange for systematic resettlement for them is our duty. Whatever happened, to provide humanitarian aids to them is the duty of the government. We're carrying out the duty of the government," he added.

The European Union has said it will monitor the implementation of the instrument signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar on return of Rohingyas to Myanmar with attention in full compliance with international law.

"We now expect the agreement signed (on Thursday) to be implemented without delay, and Myanmar to create the conditions on the ground that will allow for a voluntary, safe and dignified return of the refugees to their places of origin," said EU HighRepresentative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini.

The UNHCR on Friday said the return of Rohingyas must be voluntary, and take place in safe and dignified conditions that pave the way for lasting solutions.

"At present, conditions in Myanmar's Rakhine State are not in place to enable safe and sustainable returns," said UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards.

The 'Arrangement' stipulates that the return shall commence within two months, said the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry in a statement.

A Joint Working Group will be established within three weeks of signing the 'Arrangement'.

A specific bilateral instrument (physical arrangement) for repatriation will be concluded in a speedy manner.