Even though the repatriation of Rohingyas has made no substantial progress in the last five years, a delegation of Rohingya refugees traveled to Myanmar on Friday to see new facilities erected in preparation for the resurrection of the long-stalled plan. Officials have expressed optimism that repatriations will resume later this month.
Over one million Rohingya are currently residing in the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh, and the vast majority of them fled a 2017 military offensive in Myanmar that is currently under investigation by the United Nations for genocide. Repatriation of Rohingya refugees is currently the main concern for Bangladesh and there have been difficulties with overpopulation, instability, and violence in the refugee camps.
When it comes to helping the Rohingya, Bangladesh has already gone above and above. Bangladesh has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention. As a result, Bangladesh is not required by law to house any refugees on the territory of the country. However, for humanitarian reasons, Bangladesh has provided Rohingyas with shelter.
Previous futile attempts to repatriate the refugees
In January 2018, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed the Physical Arrangement Agreement. In accordance with its terms, Myanmar was supposed to make all necessary preparations for their return, and from the date the repatriation begins, they would finish it within two years. Since then, unfortunately, little progress has been made, and the United Nations has repeatedly warned that conditions are not suitable for their repatriation.
Following the widespread exodus of Rohingya from Myanmar’s Rakhine state to Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar in 2017, two unsuccessful repatriation attempts were made in 2018 and 2019, respectively. In both instances, the Rohingya refused to return to their homeland out of fear of further persecution and a hostile resettlement environment. With the military takeover of Myanmar in 2021, the junta liable for mass murders and genocide against the Rohingya was consolidating its power, uninterested in resolving the crisis despite Bangladesh and other allies’ efforts and initiatives.
Why is the repatriation stalling?
The primary causes of the impasse in the repatriation process are Myanmar’s reluctance, the pandemic, and the military coup in Myanmar. In June of last year, the Rohingya staged a massive demonstration and expressed their desire to return home. The primary obstacle lies in figuring out how they are going to return.
The growing threats
In order to establish 34 settlements in the Ukhia and Teknaf region, Bangladesh had to endure enormous ecological damage. There are now over 12 million Rohingya residing there. Every year, there are 35 thousand births. Once-forested land covering 4,500 acres has been completely destroyed. In addition, funding for Rohingya refugees in 2022 has decreased substantially compared to the two previous years, which has alarmed humanitarian organizations and the Bangladeshi government.
The situation in the Rohingya refugee settlements is deteriorating because Western countries have shifted their focus to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Multiple global crises, such as the Covid pandemic, the Afghanistan crisis, and lately the Russia-Ukraine conflict, have exacerbated and exacerbated the condition. In 2022, only 43% of the required amount of USD 881 million under the Joint Response Plan has been funded, according to reports. In 2021, 72 percent of the required USD 943 million was disbursed.
The sudden appearance of “pilot project” by Junta government
On Friday, May 5, 2023, approximately 20 Rohingyas and seven Bangladeshi officials, including a border patrol officer, were sent to visit the two model villages constructed for the pilot return project. “They will see the various facilities created for the purpose of repatriation to Myanmar,” said Deputy Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, Mohammed Khalid Hossain.
According to Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, the new facilities for returning refugees include a market, hospital, and reception center.
Officials anticipate that the repatriations will commence later this month, prior to the annual monsoon season. Previously, a list of more than 880,000 Rohingyas was sent to Myanmar, where the identities of approximately 70,000 were verified by them. As previously stated, approximately 1,100 individuals were identified in the initial phase as a pilot initiative for their return. Later, Myanmar objected to the inclusion of 429 individuals on the list.
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. While Bangladesh and Myanmar are preparing their returnee lists and facilitating the repatriation, INGOs and NGOs are expressing concerns over the plan. 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. Thus INGO and NGO politics must be avoided in this regard.
What is the impact of the pilot project?
How beneficial would the pilot repatriation be for Bangladesh and the Rohingya people? The answer could be positive. The program may be viewed as the beginning of a long-overdue repatriation, which may inspire greater repatriation in the future. Bangladesh has a severe dilemma regarding how to handle this refugee crisis for years to come, including questions of national security, funding, administration, and the treatment of refugees and host populations. Due to the Ukraine conflict, the Rohingya humanitarian crisis has lost its urgency to the international community already.
The pilot repatriation project offered by Myanmar may pave the way for the early repatriation of 1.1 million Rohingya refugees.