Pilot Rohingya Repatriation Project and the Compulsions for the NGOs

Rohingya camp Bangladesh

Recently, Bangladesh and Myanmar have launched a bilateral pilot project to repatriate the Rohingya. Myanmar has dedicated 15 villages to repatriating Rohingya refugees from Cox’s Bazar. Initially, Myanmar will take 1000 Rohingya. A Myanmar delegation has already visited the camps in Cox’s Bazar. But the initiative is facing harsh criticism from INGOs and NGOs such as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Human Rights Watch (HRW). NGOs are against such initiatives citing the situation in Myanmar.

Pilot Project

The bilateral pilot project is initiated by Bangladesh and Myanmar. The initiative is largely backed by China. The country has become active recently to mitigate the dispute between Bangladesh and Myanmar over the Rohingya crisis. The United Nations (UN) is also partly backing the initiative. Recently, a leaked document revealed that the Myanmar government used UN boats authorized by UN Country Coordinator for Myanmar.

Under the pilot project, Myanmar will take 1000 refugees initially. If the initiative sustains, more will follow and return to their ancestral home. Recently, a delegation from Myanmar visited Cox’s Bazar for verification and to prepare lists of returnees. At this moment, a list is being prepared.

NGOs are Expressing Concerns

While Bangladesh and Myanmar are preparing their returnee lists and facilitating the repatriation, INGOs and NGOs are expressing concerns over the plan. They are mainly objecting that the environment in Rakhine is not conducive enough for any repatriation at this moment. They are also condemning the Junta and labeling the plan as an eye wash. Prominent INGOs and NGOs including UNHCR and HRW have already given statements clearing their stance on the plan. They want Bangladesh to halt the program. Burmese Rohingya Organization UK has also called the process a Public Relation rather than repatriation.

Perhaps, China’s involvement and Junta’s controversial image are the prime reasons behind the stance of the NGOs concerned about the Rohingya.

Can Bangladesh Ignore Junta?

For more than two years now, Junta is administering the state of Myanmar. The international community and the great powers did little to pressurize the Junta to repatriate the Rohingya. Prior to Junta, the international community also failed to convince the democratic government to repatriate the Rohingya and bring the perpetrators to justice.

At this moment, Junta is formally in power, even though it faces a serious legitimacy crisis and resistance at home. But it is the only formal authority in Myanmar.

Bangladesh has been facing a refugee crisis for six years now. It has tried bilaterally, trilaterally, and multilaterally for the past six years for a viable solution. It has left no stone unturned, yet found nothing. Now as China is brokering the deal with approval from the UN, Bangladesh eagerly wants to explore the initiative as something is better than nothing. Moreover, Bangladesh can not remain indifferent to the Junta question. Owing to bilateral political, economic, connectivity, and economic issues, Bangladesh has to engage with the authority of Myanmar- that is Junta currently. 

The Compulsive Reactions of NGOs

While Bangladesh- the guardian of the Rohingya on the global stage is trying heart and soul to repatriate the Rohingya to their birthplace, the NGOs are not doing enough for the most persecuted community of our time. The UNHCR and other NGOs are only maintaining the camps. Due to other emerging crises and donor fatigue, these NGOs are also reducing their effort in every aspect after six years. Recently, WFP reduced its monthly per capita ration from only $12 to $10 citing fund shortage.

Advocacy networks such as HRW, and Amnesty International failed to create effective pressure on Myanmar. Like the NGOs, the Great powers also failed to pressurize Myanmar effectively. As a result, Bangladesh is carrying the burden alone. China’s involvement and Junta’s willingness therefore can be seen as a burden-sharing for Bangladesh. And Bangladesh, which did not see any result in the last six years can not but explore the option. The declining fund, deteriorating camp conditions, growing insecurity, and adverse impact of the refugees on the host community have made Bangladesh a desperate host looking for reducing the burden, where its international partners are only performing their formal duties within a set boundary.

Moreover, the ‘conducive environment’ debate is also a politically biased one. As the Junta is repatriating, it is guaranteeing their safety. The other stakeholders of Rakhine and Myanmar, the Arakan Army (AA) and the National Unity Government (NUG) have already recognized the Rohingya. Furthermore, as China is backing the deal, it also has the responsibility to provide an external guarantee for Rohingya’s safety upon repatriation. Therefore, it may not be unsafe to explore the possibilities of repatriation with the Junta. It seems the NGOs are driven by their own compulsion of lengthening ‘projects’ and squeeze their donors displaying the plight of the refugee community.

In a nutshell, the repatriation plan will reduce Bangladesh’s burden at least to some extent. The pilot project will also increase Bangladesh-Myanmar engagement. The World community should not go against it; instead, they should come forward and engage effectively to ensure the rapid repatriation of the rest of the refugees. The NGOs and Advocacy networks should also scale up their activity rather than reacting compulsively.

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