Repatriation is the Only Solution for the Rohingya Crisis

Rohingya Refugees Camp

Recently, Bangladesh and Myanmar have planned a Pilot Repatriation Project for the Rohingya. The bilateral project is backed by China as an external guarantor. Under the project, the partners facilitated a day trip for the refugees to see the ground situation in Myanmar. In the first week of May 2023, 20 Rohingya refugees and 7 Bangladesh officials including Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner in Cox’s Bazar (RRRC), Mohammed Mizanur Rahman visited Maungdaw Township and the model villages prepared for the temporary relocation.

However, immediately upon returning, the refugee delegation expressed their dissatisfaction over the arrangement citing that they want to go to their ancestral place, ‘Janamvita’, not to some camps or model village.

Since the beginning, several Western non-state partner organizations began to condemn the initiative citing safety and security concerns. Many analysts believe such condemnation came because of China’s affiliation with the project.

But considering the agreed repatriation plan back in 2017, and the emotional aspect of the dissatisfaction expressed by the refugee delegation upon returning, it seems this negative connotation regarding the project is misleading and goes against the interests of the Rohingya.

Pilot Repatriation Project

The Pilot Repatriation project between Bangladesh and Myanmar is backed by China. The UNHCR also had a role initially as its Myanmar office provided logistical support to the Myanmar delegation visiting Bangladesh. As a result of this tri-party effort, China, Bangladesh, and the Myanmar Junta itself are guaranteeing repatriation.

Initially, 1176 refugees would return to Myanmar. They would stay in a model village cum camp temporarily before being rehabilitated to their ancestral home- from where they were ousted in 2017. Bangladesh has already prepared a list of returnees. From a humanitarian aspect and existing repatriation norms, family and blood relations were the main priority in listing so that no one gets separated and families remain intact. 

The model village is prepared in Maungdaw township in Rakhine by the Myanmar government. Each family will receive a house and land for farming. On Friday- May 5th, 2023, a day trip was arranged for the Rohingya delegates to see the arrangements themselves.

However, immediately upon returning, the refugees expressed emotional dissatisfaction informally with the media without any formal consultation among them citing their desire to be repatriated directly to their original home. The dissatisfaction quickly became a topic for national and international media, questioning the process.

But the process is quite normal and as per agreement as the 2017’s MoU between Bangladesh and Myanmar also had the same process of temporary relocation to camp first. Moreover, the situation in Maungdaw is safe and secure.

The RRRC Chief, Mizanur Rahman told the media that he saw several Rohingya families are already living there and doing business. Furthermore, as the Myanmar military itself is participating in the process, it is guaranteeing the returnee’s safety. China also has a stake in the process. Therefore, there is hardly any chance of mistrust and insecurity.

Repatriation remains the only Solution

The crisis has been lingering for almost six years now. The deteriorating camp situation, dwindling funds for camp management, and growing vulnerability among the refugees are further challenging the sustainability of their stay in Bangladesh. Every day, life is only becoming tougher in camps in Cox’s Bazaar and a whole generation is being uprooted from their culture and habits.

Hence, repatriation is still the only solution to the crisis. The pilot project in this context is the beginning. And if it is successful, it may pave a larger path toward large-scale return for the distressed Rohingya.

However, one of the biggest reasons for the Western partners to oppose the project is China’s involvement which is only prioritizing the West’s interest. But Western countries and organizations should not go against it. Instead, they should explore further opportunities that would ensure a safe and dignified return. We must remember that ‘The Most Persecuted Minority in the World’ should not merely be reduced to a pawn in our geopolitical rivalry.

Besides, the West currently does not have good communication with the Junta government regarding the Rohingya since the coup in 2021. Yet, Bangladesh is maintaining its communication with it. So, they should increase their engagement with Bangladesh on the Rohingya and Myanmar questions instead of putting more pressure on the refugee question. And the engagement should encompass all dimensions rather than merely providing financial support to camp management.

The pilot project is the beginning of the repatriation project. Stopping it only means closing the door of repatriation. Such an opportunity should not be nipped in the bud just for mere geopolitical calculation. The dissatisfaction expressed by the refugee delegation is an emotional reaction instead of a rational one. Maungdaw is safe and secure. RRRC Chief’s observation proves such a claim.  And the temporary relocation program is as per the agreement signed six years ago. Due to China’s participation, and Junta’s facilitation, the guarantee is also strong. Therefore, we should wait for the outcomes of the pilot project. Otherwise, it would go against the interest of the Rohingya. Lastly, we must remember that repatriation is the only solution to the crisis.

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