Should Rohingyas go back to their motherland Myanmar?

Rohingya Refugees Camp in Ukhia, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

About 1 million Rohingyas currently residing in Bangladesh are registered with the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR. A pilot project to repatriate over 1,100 Rohingya refugees is now in discussion. Bangladesh and Myanmar want to start the repatriation of Rohingyas before the monsoon season with the mediation of China. For this reason, a delegation of 27 members of the Rohingya and the government visited Myanmar on Friday to monitor the situation in Rakhine. The delegation visited 15 villages in Myanmar’s Rakhine state on Friday afternoon. The purpose of the delegation was to see if Myanmar has a supportive environment suitable for repatriation.

On March 15, Teknaf, a 22-member Myanmar delegation from Maungdoo, Rakhine State, Myanmar, verified the information of 480 Rohingyas belonging to 177 families. A Rohingya delegation of 20 members was formed from that list.

However, according to media reports, the Rohingyas did not see a supportive environment for repatriation there. But Bangladesh is optimistic about Rohingya repatriation. Bangladesh’s foreign ministry said that after the Rohingyas return, each family will be given a house in the model village, land for agriculture, fertilizer and seeds. Rohingya girls running businesses independently there. The model village of Mangdu is much better than the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh. Those who will stay in the model village, each family (Rohinga) will be allocated one acre of land for cultivation, Rohingya children will have the opportunity to study in school as well as work and do business independently. Hospitals, mosques and playgrounds are being housed in the model villages, which were not present in Rohingya settlements in the past. Rohingyas should seize the opportunity.

Myanmar authorities have told Rohingyas that Rohingya returning from Bangladesh will be kept at the Maungdu transit center for only three days. Then transfer directly to Model Village. The Rohingyas will then be issued National Verification Certificates (NVCs) as citizens of Myanmar. The National Identity Card (NID) will be issued in phases if you can show the necessary documents as a resident of Myanmar.

During the visit, some members of the Rohingya delegation opposed the NVC and demanded resettlement in Janmvita instead of NID and Model Village.

Members of the Bangladesh delegation accompanying the Rohingya expressed their satisfaction with the environment. Claiming that the environment and situation in Rakhine is very good, they said that six years ago, more than 0.8 million Rohingyas from different parts of Rakhine State crossed the Naf River and took refuge in Bangladesh, but the Rohingyas did not move in the city of Maungdu.

The Rohingya delegation was led by Commissioner for Refugees, Relief and Repatriation Mohammad Mizanur Rahman. He told, “We visited Maungdoo city and also went to the village. We have also talked with the Rohingyas there, the environment is very good. Rohingyas roam freely in Maungdoo city, busy with work. We are optimistic and want to start quickly with Rohingya repatriation. A Myanmar delegation will come back to Bangladesh to talk to the Rohingyas. The head of the Rohingya delegation to Rakhine, Mohammad Chalim, said, “In addition to visiting 15 villages in Rakhine, the Rohingya delegation has been given the opportunity to see how much infrastructure has been built to support the repatriation to Rakhine.” But they want to take Rohingya with NBC card (guest card) without giving citizenship before repatriation. Myanmar authorities say citizenship will be granted six months after moving there. In response to this, we have said that repatriation should be started with citizenship first.

However, it is also important for Rohingyas to return to their own country. An entire population cannot live in a different country for years as a refugee of another in such a state deprived of their natural civil rights. They have the right to return to their own country, their land, their homes, where they will work with full civil rights to build a better life and a better future for themselves and their children. The programme may be seen as a start of the long-overdue repatriation, which may build confidence for future repatriation in greater numbers. But we need to keep in mind that it is the beginning. If the initiative sustains, more will follow and return to their ancestral home. Over 80 percent of the refugees in Cox’s Bazar rely on external aid to survive. Every family gets a monthly food ration of Tk 1,030 per person. Rohingyas repeatedly stressed that running a family with this allocation is very hard. On the other hand, the influx of refugees has put immense pressure on the host communities, and the environment in a densely populated country. The host communities in Cox’s Bazar are also highly vulnerable and at high risk of hunger like the Rohingyas, according to a WFP report.

It is also possible that the Rohingya are afraid and unwilling to return if their rights will be violated further. But the troubled question for Bangladesh, then, would be how to deal with this refugee crisis for potentially years more to come involving funding, administration, inclusive and equitable treatment of the refugees and host populations, and national security issues, among others.

There is a need for a ‘pilot repatriation project’ to send back refugees where both the countries have historical experience and references to repatriate Rohingyas. Both Bangladesh and Myanmar had worked it out before since 1978 with international support. The government of Bangladesh and most of the people of Bangladesh sympathize with the Rohingya on humanitarian grounds. But it is difficult for us to shelter this huge population for very long. Our country is small and our population is huge. Our economic capacity is not so good that we can provide food, shelter and treatment to the Rohingyas day after day. It is worth mentioning that the aid for the Rohingyas is declining day by day. International community is bust with the Ukraine crisis now. The Rohingya humanitarian crisis has lost its urgency to international community because of the Ukraine war but did not lose sight of it. Reports say only 43 percent of the required amount of USD 881 million under the Joint Response Plan 2022 has been funded in 2022. In 2021, the disbursed amount was 72 percent of the required USD 943 million.

Drug smuggling is carried out in 800 arenas in Rohingya camps and 123 people have been killed in Rohingya camps in five years of internecine clashes. Arms trade, murder, rape and extortion have become evident in the Rohingya camps. Internal chaos is on the rise. There are also incidents of fleeing from Ukhia, Teknaf and Bhasanchar where the Rohingya have taken refuge. Some of them are also trying to cross the sea to other countries. There are incidents of Rohingya boat capsizing while crossing the sea. They are also trying to enter different districts of the country. They have also been arrested from some districts. The incident of Rohingyas taking refuge in Bangladesh was an expression of humanitarian perspective. It is now the responsibility of the international community to repatriate them.

Due to the situation of the Rohingyas, the pressure is not only on our economy, but also various social and environmental problems., Belatedly, attention needs to be paid to building a relationship of trust with Myanmar. Whatever government is in Myanmar now, Bangladesh should work to build a relationship of trust with Myanmar’s society, the government of Myanmar, and the opposition. So that they don’t think that we incite Rohingyas, give them shelter, we send them to fight against Myanmar etc. so that the idea is not in Myanmar. Bangladesh has already started trading with them to build Myanmar’s confidence, sending representatives on their national day, meeting between the security forces of the two countries, Bangladesh sending relief to Myanmar’s disaster but these are not enough initiatives.

Now that Bangladesh is in a deep crisis over the Rohingya issue, more effort is needed than usual to build a relationship of trust. For example, the top-level meeting of the two countries is not held for more than 20 years. After the independence of Bangladesh till 2000 there were 16 summit level visits with Myanmar. That means there is no dialogue at the top level of the two countries in this deep crisis. Now it is suddenly not possible. For that, the dialogue between the two countries should be increased at the foreign minister level. Apart from the Rohingya, there are many other issues between the two countries, which need to be further discussed at this time. If necessary, they should make concessions in other matters and build a relationship of trust to realize their own interests in the Rohingya issue.

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.

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 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 cannot 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. 

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.  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 cannot 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. But some issues should also be addressed

1) Rohingya repatriation must be safe, continual, dignified, and sustainable based that is something Myanmar must guarantee.

2) Myanmar should amend the 1982 citizenship law. It must consider Rohingyas as a legal ethnic group in Myanmar.

3) Safe zone for Rohingyas must be ensured.

4) They must fulfil the requirements or proposals of the Kofi Annan Commission (The Advisory Commission on Rakhine State), and the Bangladesh Prime Minister’s proposals at the 74th, 75th, 76th UN General Assembly.

5) However, analysts advise Bangladesh to be cautious if Myanmar now wants to take back 700 people. They must keep their word. Myanmar must confirm it will take back all stranded Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

6) They must be committed that the process would be a continual process. All Rohingya would be repatriated gradually.

7) Myanmar must act as a friendly neighbour with Bangladesh. It isn’t possible for Myanmar and Bangladesh to change their neighbours. Basically, Myanmar and Bangladesh must engage with neighbourly spirit. Myanmar and Bangladesh must strengthen their ties to resolve the long-pending Rohingya crisis. The whole of South Asia and Southeast Asia could benefit from resolving this regional humanitarian crisis.

8) Myanmar must have goodwill to engage positively with Bangladesh. The world wants to see a fruitful and sustainable solution to the Rohingya crisis. The Rohingya crisis solution would be essential for the safe and dignified repatriation of Rohingya people to Myanmar from Bangladesh.

However, Myanmar’s proposed Rohingya repatriation process must be smoothly implemented, continual, sustainable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *