ROHINGYA REPATRIATION

First attempt fails amid protests

Responsibility for creating environment for return rests with Myanmar: UN

Shahidul Islam Chowdhury with Mohammad Nurul Islam in Cox’s Bazar | Published: 00:55, Nov 16,2018

 
 

Rohingya refugees shout slogans at a protest against a disputed repatriation programme at the Unchiprang refugee camp near Teknaf on Thursday. — AFP photo

The government failed to start repatriation of Rohingya people of Myanmar on Thursday as no one of the forcibly displaced community agreed to go back citing absence of environment for return.
Several hundred Rohingya people staged demonstration at Unchiprang camp under Teknaf police station of Cox’s Bazar district on Thursday, protesting the attempts to send them back to Myanmar.
The UNHCR has, however, continued assessing willingness for return of the people cleared by the Myanmar government. Sixty-three families were interviewed in the last three days, but no family expressed their willingness to go back to Rakhine, officials said.
The United Nations believe that it was the responsibility of the Myanmar government to convince the Rohingya people to go back to their country by creating conducive environment for return.
‘We would not return to Myanmar without citizenship and equal right the Buddhists and other ethnic minority communities enjoy,’ Mohammad Tyab told New Age on Thursday. He is one of the Rohingyas cleared by the Myanmar government from the Unchiprang refugee camp under Teknaf police station in Cox’s Bazar.
Md Yusuf, head mazhi of Unchiprang refugee camp, showed no interest whatsoever to return to Myanmar, especially without citizenship and without the assurance of safety and security.
Hundreds of Rohingya people staged demonstration at Unchiprang camp against attempts by the government to send them back to Myanmar. They held rally and paraded through the camp ground.
They chanting slogans: ‘No, no, we won’t go.’ Some protesters also waved placards and festoons inscribed with the message, ‘we want justice.’
Abul Kalam, refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner in Cox’s Bazar, said they closed the Gundhum transit centre under Naikhongchari upazila of Bandarban for Thursday as no Rohingya people agreed voluntarily to return to their ancestral home.
Transports and other facilities were at the ready at Unchiprang camp still 4:00pm on Thursday, but no one showed up.
The government briefed diplomats in Dhaka on Thursday afternoon about the move for starting the process of repatriation of Rohingyas.
The UN resident coordinator in Dhaka, Mia Seppo, said after the briefing, ‘It is important making sure that the Rohingyas have enough trust to return to their homeland, and trust to believe what they had gone through would not be repeated. This is the responsibility of the Government of Myanmar.’
‘The UN is still concerned about the conditions in Myanmar,’ she said.
‘I think it is important to some extent to clarify where the responsibility is lying,’ Seppo said, adding that ‘it is not the responsibility of the Government of Bangladesh for [creating] conditions conducive for return to Myanmar.’
There were some small steps for improvement in this regard in Myanmar, the UN official said expressing hope that the international community would work on making further progress in order to enable the refugees to exercise their right of return.
When asked whether the process of verification of voluntariness would go on, she said, ‘Yes’.
Clarifying the government’s position to the diplomats on the attempts to begin repatriation, foreign minister AH Mahmood Ali said Bangladesh was not for forcibly sending Rohingya people. ‘We want a peaceful solution to the crisis with voluntary return,’ he observed.
He also pointed out that Japan proposed the Rohingya camp leaders should visit Rakhine to assess whether adequate improvements were made for return of the displaced people in safety and security.
Indian high commissioner Harsh Vardhan Shringla said his country was for safe, steady and sustainable return of displaced people of Myanmar.
European Parliament in a resolution on the day urged the authorities to provide more land to reduce overcrowding and improve the squalid conditions in the camps. It also pleaded with the authorities to ease the bureaucratic restrictions they are imposing on humanitarian organisations, while requesting both Bangladesh and Myanmar governments to immediately reconsider the decision to start repatriation of the Rohingya refugees.
Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Thursday that Bangladesh government should immediately halt the repatriation of Rohingya people to Myanmar.
The government handed over a list of 2260 persons of 485 families to the UNHCR and the Myanmar authorities on October 28 to start the repatriation process.
Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed on October 30 to begin the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees to their homeland Rakhine by mid-November.
The families which would agree to go back to Rakhine would be taken to the transfer camps on the Bangladesh side first.
Bangladesh authorities would provide each of the returnee families with essentials including rice, edible oil, salt and some clothing etc. to meet the need for three months so that they can adapt in absence of assistance from the Myanmar side immediately after their return, officials said.
The returnees would be kept for 2/3 days in the transit camps near their respective township, Myanmar officials said in Cox’s Bazar on October 31.
The returnees were likely to be given national verification card initially for identification.
More than 7,00,000 Rohingyas, mostly women, children and aged people, entered Bangladesh after fleeing unbridled murder, arson and rape during ‘security operations’ by Myanmar military in Rakhine, what the United Nations denounced as ethnic cleansing and genocide, beginning from August 25, 2017.
The ongoing Rohingya influx took the number of undocumented Myanmar nationals and registered refugees in Bangladesh to about 11,16,000, according to estimates by UN agencies and Bangladesh foreign ministry.

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