WHILE for Bangladesh, the Rohingya influx began back in 1978, for the Rohingyas, it started in the early 17th and 18th centuries and turned shoddier after 1940. Myanmar has kept back this quandary alive for decades and Bangladesh had no option than to face it because of its geographical location. Despite that, Bangladesh could not adopt a proper strategy to handle this issue since then. The history reveals that in 1978, about 2,50,000 Rohingyas were compelled to come to Bangladesh seeking safety because of the Myanmar government-driven thinning out mission against them. The Bangladesh government at the outset tried to solve the predicament buy undertaking bilateral diplomatic measures. However, all attempts failed as Myanmar did not respond to any diplomatic call and the Myanmar government only negotiated after China’s mediation and a ‘special counter-measure’ by the Bangladesh government.
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an agreement on July 9, 1978 for the repatriation of the Rohingyas, under which Myanmar was duty-bound to take back almost all the Rohingyas.
Thereafter, the 1982 citizenship law was passed in Myanmar. The 1982 Burma Citizenship Law (1982 Act) categorises its citizens under three categories of citizenship — citizenship, associate citizenship, and naturalised citizenship. However, successive Burmese governments have not allegedly used the law correctly and have possibly exercised administrative latitude to deny citizenship to an estimated 8,00,000 to 1.3 million Rohingyas, especially of Rakhine State. Therefore, the root causes for rendering the Rohingyas of Rakhine State stateless may not, therefore, be attributed to the 1982 Act but to the process of verification for granting them citizenship. The detailed scrutiny of the said act rather suggests that the Rohingyas of Rakhine State are entitled to apply for citizenship in Myanmar and they may fall under any of the three categories depending on the documents that they can submit for the purpose.
In 1991–92, another round of violence and torture was administered to Rohingyas and during the period, approximately 2,00,000 of them fled to Bangladesh. Following this incident, Bangladesh again called for diplomatic action and the Myanmar government unwillingly took part in a bilateral meeting in April 1992. A joint declaration was signed at that meeting and later on, this declaration started being called an agreement. In the 1992 joint statement/agreement, Myanmar clearly stated that it would not take back anyone without proper documents.
Since August 25, 2017, over 625,000 Rohingyas crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh fleeing a brutal military crackdown that came in response to insurgent attacks on police and army posts by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. In this latest Rohingya influx, reportedly, at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in the month after violence had broken out in Myanmar. Based on surveys of refugees in Bangladesh, the number is much higher than Myanmar’s official figure of 400. Since this crisis started, the progress story of resolving the same is also very depressing. The Bangladesh government was under the impression that Myanmar will be ready to oblige to the 1992 treaty for the Rohingya repatriation. On October 4, the office of Myanmar’s state counsellor said that according to the joint statement of 1992, legitimate citizens can return to Myanmar and they will gladly rehabilitate them. Now, if we believe it to be true, approximately 14,000 to 18,000 Rohingyas will be repatriated from Bangladesh. Realising this, Bangladesh government on October 9 expressed that repatriation based on valid citizenship credentials will not work and it is Myanmar’s trick of not taking back Rohingyas and not implementing the Kofi Annan Commission’s resolution.
However, recently governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar have signed an agreement on the repatriation of the Rohingya people who have come to Bangladesh since October 2016. Under this agreement, the repatriation will begin in two months. However, critics identified that although Myanmar signed this agreement, it has not taken any initiative to create conditions for a safe return of the Rohingyas. Regarding the repatriation, the UN refugee agency expressed its concern that the present conditions in Rakhine are not conducive to a safe and sustainable return of the Rohingya refugees. The UNHCR deputy high commissioner Kelly Clements said, ‘Deep divisions between communities remain unaddressed and humanitarian access is inadequate.’
It is widely realised that in order to facilitate safe repatriation, the UNHCR needs to work very closely with Bangladesh and Myanmar in the entire process of repatriation. The UN refugee agency stressed that the return of the Rohingyas needs to comply with international standards of safety, dignity and voluntariness that would require an international presence and monitoring in areas of return. Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesperson for the UN secretary general António Guterres, said, ‘People should go back; people or refugees should go back to their homes when they feel it is safe and nobody should be forced to move.’ The UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein warned against a premature repatriation of the Rohingyas in a special session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Therefore, the main challenge is that no one should be repatriated against their will. It is very important that refugees go home to their place where they came from but in an atmosphere that is free and that respects their rights.
A resolution to deal with the human rights situation of the Rohingya Muslim population and other minorities in Myanmar’s Rakhine State was passed at the 27th special session of the UNHRC in Geneva on December 5. The resolution strappingly condemned the alleged systematic and gross violations of human rights and abuses committed in Myanmar, particularly in Rakhine State, notably against people belonging to the Rohingya Muslim community and other minorities. The resolution was passed by 33 votes. The countries voting in favour are Albania, Bangladesh, Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Egypt, El Salvador, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Hungary, Indonesia, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America. Nine countries — Congo, Ecuador, Ethiopia, India, Japan, Kenya, Mongolia, South Africa, Venezuela — refrained from voting while China, Burundi and the Philippines voted against the resolution.
The United States has assured Bangladesh ‘both financial and diplomatic’ support for a safe, sustainable and dignified repatriation of the forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals.
The British high commissioner in Dhaka said that there was now a global understanding that the decades-old crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine State cannot be allowed to continue and the United Kingdom is active to find a lasting solution to the Rohingya situation.
China said that the international community should encourage Bangladesh and Myanmar to work together to facilitate the repatriation of refugees.
India said that Bangladesh and Myanmar should implement a systematic process of verification to facilitate the repatriation of the Rohingyas. India also said that the United Nations Human Rights Council should help Myanmar to carry out its responsibilities towards its own people. India requested the UN high commissioner for human rights to track the progress concerning the human rights of the Rohingya people and to provide oral updates to the UNHRC for a period of three years.
The French president gave the assurance to Bangladesh that France would fully support Bangladesh in finding a permanent solution to the ongoing Rohingya crisis at UN and other international forums.
Everyone understands repatriation of Rohingyas is essential. However, the biggest challenge lies in ensuring a safe repatriation to uphold humanity above all.
Tasmiah Nuhiya Ahmed is a research assistant (law) at the Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs.
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