NO PROGRESS in the repatriation of the Rohingyas, about 11,16,000 sheltered in Bangladesh — 7,00,000 who have fled oppression and torture of a genocidal proportion by Myanmar’s security forces in Rakhine State since August 2017 and others having lived here in phases since the late 1970s — is worrying. The first attempt at the repatriation of the Rohingyas from Bangladesh failed five months ago. Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an instrument on November 23, 2017 for the repatriation of only the Rohingyas who crossed over to Bangladesh after October 2016, who roughly account for more than 62 per cent of the total number of the Rohingyas now staying in Bangladesh, ensuring safety, security and dignity of the community. But the process failed because of the unwillingness of the Myanmar authorities, who continued persecuting the Rohingyas living in Rakhine State to create a fearful situation so that the Rohingyas staying in Bangladesh remain unwilling to get back to their native place in Myanmar. Myanmar has also used various tactics to delay the repatriation process and deflect any international pressure that could force Myanmar to take back the Rohingyas. The Myanmar authorities also slowed the process as they have cleared about 6,600 from two lists of about 30,500 people, since February 2018, that Bangladesh gave them.
In such a stalemate, the United Nations is reported to be saying that the Myanmar military has carried out attacks afresh on its civilians, which might amount to ‘war crimes’, in northern Rakhine since January. In the most recent escalation, helicopters flew over a village in the South Buthidaung township on April 3 and fired into civilians tending cows and paddy fields, leaving seven dead. The UN Human Rights Office says that about 4,000 Rohingyas were displaced in March 25–30 in the region. Violence in several townships in Rakhine State have in recent weeks caused the displacement of more than 20,000 civilians. This could add to the fearful situation, which might ultimately impact the repatriation of the Rohingyas from Bangladesh. Along with this, the Myanmar authorities are reported to have drastically cut off access of humanitarian actors, including the United Nations, hampering their efforts to create an atmosphere conducive to repatriation. Attacks are taking place at a time when the international community is taking steps towards ensuring accountability for the crimes Myanmar committed against its civilians in previous years. In a situation like this, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ intent to extend support for the repatriation of the Rohingyas is a welcome move.
But there are fears that Myanmar would allow ASEAN only humanitarian access but other members, but Myanmar, of the group would need, as Bangladesh also wants, full access to the trouble-torn region for a meaningful engagement in the repatriation process. While China and Russia believe that the repatriation process should be bilaterally resolved with Myanmar and India maintains a distance from the process, it is imperative for Bangladesh to take on board Myanmar’s other neighbours and ASEAN members in a joint move to make the Rohingya repatriation successful and sustainable while having the issue rolling in international forums.
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