Myanmar promises alone can’t make Rohingya return a reality

Published: 00:00, Jan 21,2021


THE repatriation of the Rohingyas from Bangladesh to their homeland Rakhine has so far been a repeat of promises made and broken by Myanmar. Efforts to repatriate the Rohingyas — about 860,000 of whom have fled Myanmar’s military violence to Bangladesh since the latest spate that began in August 2017 to take the total number of the Rohingyas, many living here since the late 1970s, to more than 1.1 million — faltered twice on August 22, 2019 under an arrangement signed on January 16, 2018 and on November 15, 2018 under a deal signed on November 23, 2017, mostly because Myanmar continued to create a fearful situation for the Rohingyas in Rakhine, with no one living in Cox’s Bazar camps voluntarily turning up to accept the repatriation offer, citing  ‘a lack of congenial atmosphere’ in their homeland. The repatriation process has since then been largely left unattended for some time because of Myanmar, which resorted to various means such as a near discontinuation of the clearance for refugees to get back to their homeland. Myanmar on January 19 again agreed to take back the Rohingyas with an emphasis that the people who would return to Rakhine would need to abide by the laws, a proposition in which Bangladesh has hardly anything to do.

While Bangladesh, which thinks that there is no option but for an early start of the repatriation process as the number of the Rohingyas increased after the birth of about 90,000 children in the past three years, says that any repatriation should be sustainable and the international community, especially United Nations agencies, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China, India and Japan, should play a constructive role and be involved in the process, China at the trilateral meeting at hand proposed that the repatriation process should be kept limited to the bilateral mechanism developed by Bangladesh and Myanmar; and the meeting asked the working group of the tripartite mechanism to meet by February on the issue. Bangladesh says that the return of the Rohingyas should be voluntary and Myanmar should create an environment conducive to the repatriation of the Rohingyas with assurances of their rights, livelihood, safety and security. Bangladesh has so far sought repatriation clearance for 892,036 Rohingyas but Myanmar has issued clearance for only 27,640 Rohingyas in the past three years and rejected clearance for 14,400 of the community on insubstantial grounds. In a situation like this, Bangladesh expresses its cautious optimism about the repatriation beginning in the second quarter of 2020. And Bangladesh has re-emphasised the need for flexibility on part of Myanmar, which the country has so far largely failed to show, for a successful, sustainable, graceful and voluntary return of the Rohingyas.

What Myanmar says or shows speaks of unwillingness of a sort, in one way or another, with a number of issues still having been left unattended. Bangladesh should in no way repose its trust alone in Myanmar for the repatriation of the Rohingyas. Bangladesh must, therefore, step up its efforts bilaterally, regionally and internationally to make the promise that Myanmar made a reality at the earliest, not only in its own interests but also in greater interests of the Rohingyas, the world’s most persecuted community in recent times.

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