Rohingya exodus from their homeland, making their way to Bangladesh
Rohingya exodus from their homeland, making their way to Bangladesh Reuters

It had been decided to send back all the Rohingyas sheltered in Bangladesh back to Rakhine in Myanmar within two years of the start of repatriation, according to the deal.

However, it has been three years since the repatriation agreement was signed, but the process hasn’t even begun. Dates had twice been fixed, but nothing happened.

In the meantime, mediated by China, talks were held again between Bangladesh and Myanmar, though Myanmar had done nothing to create an environment in Rakhine conducive to the return of the Rohingyas.

In the tripartite talks scheduled to begin in Dhaka on 19 January, Bangladesh is likely to stress on beginning the repatriation process before the coming monsoon.

Foreign ministry officials informed Prothom Alo that Bangladesh had provided a list 835,000 Rohingyas for repatriation in six phases from January 2018 to December 2020. Myanmar went through the list and sent it back with only 42,000 names selected. The list was supposed to have been based on families, but the list sent back by Myanmar was not complete. The names of some members of a family were on a list, while others were dropped. That raised questions about the list.

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We want to go about the repatriation process realistically. We want to discuss whether the repatriation can begin before the rainy season
Masud Bin Momen, foreign secretary

The foreign ministry officials said Bangladesh was placing importance on family and village (Rakhine) based repatriation. This was because the Rohingyas would not be willing to go back without their families or randomly to places scattered all over Rakhine. If the villages were first determined and then the persons of the villages sent back together, then the repatriation efforts may be successful. This will make selection easier and also reassure the Rohingyas.

The main agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar for the repatriation of the Rohingyas was signed on 23 November 2017. The agreement was signed between the foreign ministers of the two countries in Myanmar’s administrative capital Naypyidaw. Then on 16 January 2018, another agreement was signed in presence of the foreign secretaries of the two countries in Naypyidaw to work out the details of the repatriation at the field level and to finalise the framework of the process.

Had the repatriation process begun accordingly, then at the outset 1,500 Rohingyas would be repatriated every week, except on Saturdays and Sundays. The agreement also stated that the repatriation process would be completed within two years from day that it started.

Basically, the 87,000 Rohingyas who had fled into Bangladesh due to brutalities of the Myanmar army in October 2016 and the 655,000 who fled after August 2017, were to be taken back under this agreement. The United Nations has recognised the 2017 brutalities in Rakhine as genocide.

When asked about repatriation talks with Myanmar, particularly under China mediation, foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen said, “We want to go about the repatriation process realistically. We want to discuss whether the repatriation can begin before the rainy season.”

The Rohingya problem will not be resolved without international pressure... particularly a UN Security Council resolution, stern stand by the powerful countries and the verdict of the international court. But due to opposition by China and Russia, it is still not clear what the Security Council will do
Shahidul Haque, former foreign secretary and senior fellow, South Asian Institute for Policy and Governance, NSU

The foreign secretary said that the confidence of the Rohingyas had to be built up regarding their return to Rakhine. To that end, Bangladesh proposed to take a team of Rohingyas to inspect the situation in Rakhine. Then the Rohingya delegation could return to Cox’s Bazar and tell the others what they had observed there. The Rohingyas could then take their own decision about returning.

In the meantime, on 4 and 29 December, around 3,500 Rohingyas were relocated in two phases from the camps in Cox’s Bazar to Bhasan Char on Hatia, Noakhali. The United Nations and other international agencies have questioned this relocation.

Diplomats and analysts of international relations have expressed their doubts as to how far the repatriation process will be successful, even with the involvement of China. They point out that under China’s mediation, 22 August 2019 had been fixed to start repatriation, but not a single person was sent. Earlier, 15 November 2018 had been set as the date to begin repatriation, but that too fell through. Over the past three years, Myanmar has done nothing in Rakhine to encourage the Rohingyas to return. With the Rohingya genocide now under trial at international courts, international quarters are demanding that the Rohingyas be included in the repatriation talks.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, former foreign secretary and senior fellow at North South University’s South Asian Institute for Policy and Governance, Shahidul Haque, said the Rohingya problem will not be resolved without international pressure. Nothing will happen without international pressure, particularly a UN Security Council resolution, stern stand by the powerful countries and the verdict of the international court. But due to opposition by China and Russia, it is still not clear what the Security Council will do.

At the moment the international court is the only area of pressure. The court can say that the Rohingyas must be taken back to their homeland. Also, it may be effective if China puts pressure on Myanmar.

This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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