Bangladesh and Myanmar on Tuesday signed a deal for setting modalities of physical arrangement for partial repatriation within two years of transferring the first batch of Rohingyas who entered Bangladesh since October, 2016.
The arrangement agreed by the two sides involves the repatriation of over 7,40,000 Rohingyas who fled violence in Rakhine and crossed the border since October, 2016.
Myanmar finally agreed to take back 300 persons per day keeping the process operational for five working days a week, excluding Saturday and Sunday, in an apparent move to slow the entire repatriation process.
Bangladesh was pressing for sending 10,000 to 15,000 Rohingyas to Myanmar in a week.
The Myanmar authorities expressed their intent to start the process with transferring those from about 10,000 Rohingyas staying along the zero line of the borders of the two countries, foreign secretary M Shahidul Haque said.
Myanmar provided Bangladesh, in the meeting, the detailed lists of 508 Hindus faith and 750 Muslims who have been ‘verified as Myanmar residents’ and suggested that Bangladesh include them in the first batch of repatriation, Myanmar foreign ministry claimed in a press release on Tuesday.
Bangladesh will provide lists of prospective returnees and duly filled verification
forms to Myanmar side for assessing eligibility for return.
None of the sides, however, made it clear when they would begin actual transfer as they were supposed to ‘commence’ the ‘repatriation process’ on January 23.
Foreign secretary Md Shahidul Haque and his Myanmar counterpart permanent secretary Myint Thu signed the deal after hectic two-day talks starting Monday in Myanmar’s new capital Naypyitaw.
The text of the Physical Arrangement which will facilitate return of Rohingays from Bangladesh, guided by the earlier understanding and principles mentioned in ‘Arrangement on return of displaced person from Rakhine State’, signed on November 23, and the terms of reference of the joint working group, agreed on December 19, Bangladesh embassy in Yangon said in a press release on Tuesday.
The two sides also finalised the ‘form’ to be used for seeking information for verifying eligibility of return primarily considering the family as a unit.
Modalities for repatriation of orphans and children born out of unwarranted incidence were also incorporated in the said arrangement.
Under the Physical Arrangement, Bangladesh would establish five transit camps from which returnees would be received initially in two reception centres on Myanmar side.
Myanmar said it would receive the verified returnees at Taung Pyo Letwe reception centre for those who would be dispatched by land, and Nga Khu Ya reception centre for those dispatched by river.
Myanmar side will use Hla Pho Kaung as transit camp for temporary accommodation for the returnees.
Bangladesh ambassador in Yangon M Sufiur Rahman hoped that Myanmar would not turn the reception centres and the transit camps into permanent camps for the displaced persons.
Bangladesh will include the UNHCR in the process on Bangladesh side, he said.
Myanmar reiterated its commitment to stopping outflow of Myanmar residents to Bangladesh, Bangladesh foreign ministry said.
Both countries agreed to form two technical working groups, one on verification and the other on return.
The physical arrangement also included modalities of other relevant aspects of return.
The two sides also agreed to review the repatriation process every three months.
Experts have expressed their scepticism about the possibility of completing the repatriation based on arrangements made with Myanmar as the country agreed to take back only 300 persons per working day.
Anybody can work out how many Rohingyas may get the opportunity to return to their home in a system set for transferring only 300 persons per working day, excluding holidays in both the countries, in two years even if Myanmar’s military controlled authorities become flexible with all their good intention in assessing the eligibility of return, a former secretary at Bangladesh foreign ministry told New Age on Tuesday.
Bangladesh Enterprise Institute vice-president Humayun Kabir, however, described setting a physical arrangement as a ‘progress’. ‘We will measure its success when everybody goes back home,’ he observed.
He suggested that the group proposed by Myanmar should be sent in the last batch of repatriation.
In the ‘arrangement’ signed on November 23, the government agreed, at the request of Myanmar, to accept the principles of verification of nationalities of Rohingyas described in the 1992 ‘statement’ for beginning repatriation of those who entered Bangladesh from Rakhine State only after October 9, 2016.
Over 6,55,500 Rohingyas, mostly women, children and aged people, entered Bangladesh fleeing unbridled murder, arson and rape during ‘security operations’ by Myanmar military in Rakhine, what the United Nations denounced as ethnic cleansing, between August 25, 2017 and January 14, 2018.
Several international authorities denounced the operations as textbook example of ethnic cleansing and genocide, according to estimates by UN agencies.
The ongoing Rohingya influx took the total number of undocumented Myanmar nationals and registered refugees in Bangladesh to over 10,74,000 till January 14 over four decades, according to Bangladesh authorities.
Bangladesh government so far registered more than 9,85,000 Rohingyas who entered Bangladesh from Myanmar.
Geneva-based UNHCR said on Tuesday that Rohingyas would need, before considering their return to Myanmar, to see positive developments in relation to their legal status and citizenship, the security situation in Rakhine State, and their ability to enjoy basic rights back home, according to a UNHCR press release.
Major challenges include, UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said at a press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday, ensuring that refugees were informed of the situation in their areas of origin and potential return and consulted on their wishes, that their safety was ensured throughout - on departure, in transit and on return, and that the environment in the areas of return was conducive for safe and sustainable return.
UNHCR said it was expecting Myanmar to go for comprehensive implementation of the Rakhine Advisory Commission recommendations to ensure sustainable return with ensuring peace and security for all communities in Rakhine State, reducing communal divisions, and achieving solutions for the legal and citizenship status of Muslim communities.
Myanmar foreign ministry also said the Myanmar side informed the Bangladesh delegation about current activities of ‘ARSA terrorists’.
Myanmar said it already provided the list of over 1,000 ‘ARSA terrorists’ to Bangladesh at the BGP-BGB Central Meeting held in Naypyitaw on November 14, 2017.
During the JWG meeting, Myanmar side handed over the said list to Bangladesh delegation and requested the latter to extradite them in compliance with the Agreement on Border Arrangement and Cooperation (Border Ground Rules) signed in 1980.
Myanmar side also stressed the need for both sides to take preventive measures for the possible attacks by the ARSA terrorists during the course of the repatriation process.
Some experts apprehended that returnees might be kept in isolation in the camps as the Myanmar authorities practiced such things in camps meant for internally displaced Rohingyas in Rakhine.
‘If other sites are any indication,’ Francis Wade, author of a book ‘Myanmar’s Enemy Within’, said in a tweet, ‘This will be an internment camp aimed at isolating Rohingya, making them reliant on (severable) aid, breaking interaction [with] other communities and fuelling the belief they are threats that require containing.’
Buddhist-majority Myanmar has for years denied Rohingya citizenship, freedom of movement and access to basic services such as healthcare and education.
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