Myanmar junta drags feet over Rohingya repatriation talks

Shahidul Islam Chowdhury | Published: 23:26, Jun 10,2021 | Updated: 00:38, Jun 11,2021


The military-run Myanmar government, citing domestic compulsions, has continued to kill time to resume the formal bilateral discussion with Bangladesh on starting repatriation of Rohingya people forcibly displaced from Rakhine state of that country.

The Bangladesh government has taken an initiative to restart the process with potentials for engagements from China, ASEAN members, neighbours of Myanmar and UN bodies working in the country, according to foreign ministry officials.  

‘The bilateral mechanism on Rohingya repatriation has been hampered due to the changeover in Myanmar [in February this year],’ foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen told New Age.

The Myanmar authorities are yet to show interest in formal talks due to their domestic compulsions as they stated that they would need to reshuffle their members in the mechanism with Bangladesh on Rohingya issues, he said.

The two sides now maintain communications at the level of ambassadors, said the foreign secretary.

Masud said that he had discussed the issues of Rohingya repatriation in a meeting with ambassadors of eight ASEAN member-countries in Dhaka and sought support from their countries in the ASEAN process in this regards.

Bangladesh is for the presence of civil representatives from the ASEAN members, neighbours of Myanmar and UN bodies in the repatriation and resettlement efforts in Rakhine state for building confidence among the potential Rohingya returnees, he said.

These foreign civil representatives could remain engaged in the process of resettlement at the village level to ensure shelters, livelihood opportunities, skills training, education and health care for Rohingya returnees, he added.

Myanmar military chief Min Aung Hlaing has taken the full control of the country after overthrowing Aung San Suu Kyi’s government early February.

The last meeting of the secretary-level joint working group of Bangladesh and Myanmar was held about two years ago.

Bangladesh is also seeking a meeting of a trilateral mechanism initiated by China with participation of Myanmar at the level of foreign ministers of the three countries.

Such a meeting is yet to take place due to an apparent unwillingness of the Myanmar side, according to diplomatic sources.

The trilateral mechanism is only nominally active at the official level in Dhaka.

Not a single Rohingya has gone back to Rakhine as the two moves taken in this regard in 2018 under bilateral agreements between Bangladesh and Myanmar failed.

Against this backdrop, the Bangladesh government has started relocating sections of Rohingya people to the Bhasan Char Island under the coastal district of Noakhali to decongest existing makeshift camps in Cox’s Bazar where about 1.1 million members of the community live.

The government would resume the relocation process in September while over 18,000 Rohingya people have already been transferred to Bhasan Char, said the foreign secretary. 

The UN-led Joint Response Plan 2021 shows an increase of some 29,000 Rohingyas in Bangladesh camps in a year as the UN bodies sought support for 8,55,000 Rohingyas in 2020, while the total increase in the number of the displaced population has been 1,30,000 since 2017 when an estimated 7,40,000 Rohingyas fled atrocities committed by the Myanmar military and their cohorts in Rakhine state, according to UNHCR statistics.

On average, some 30,000 newborns have been added each year to Rohingya families in Bangladesh camps since the latest influx of thousands of Rohingyas fleeing unbridled murder, arson and rape by the military in Rakhine, what the United Nations has denounced as ethnic cleansing and genocide, beginning from August 25, 2017, according to the UN agencies.

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