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In an interest of Bangladesh, China engaged as a mediator on this issue in 2018 to expedite the Rohingya repatriation process and the tripartite discussion started. A number of meetings have been held between the two countries under China’s mediation till January this year.

But discussions on Rohingya repatriation have remained stalled since the military coup in Myanmar in February this year.

On the other hand, the most powerful countries and international organisations including the United Nations and the US, have kept themselves away from the Rohingya repatriation process as Bangladesh engaged China alone.

Right from the start, their main focus has been improving the life standards of Rohingyas instead of engaging powerful nations in the discussions on repatriation.

Such is the scenario on the fourth anniversary of the Rohingya exodus on 25 August. On this very day four years ago, the Myanmar army started a brutal massacre to wipe out the Rohingya community from Rakhine forever. The Myanmar army launched the operation on 25 August 2017. And just within the next five months more than 700,000 Rohingyas took shelter in Bangladesh to save their lives. There were already 400,000 Rohingyas in Bangladesh. Now the total number of Rohingyas in the country stands at nearly 1.1 million.

After the second attempt of repatriation was failed in August 2019, the Rohingyas in the Cox's Bazar camp gave a five-point condition for their return to Rakhine state. These include granting Myanmar citizenship, ensuring their safety in Rakhine, returning their land, paying compensation, and bringing those killed and tortured to book through international courts


After the second attempt of repatriation was failed in August 2019, the Rohingyas in the Cox's Bazar camp gave a five-point condition for their return to Rakhine state. These include granting Myanmar citizenship, ensuring their safety in Rakhine, returning their land, paying compensation, and bringing those killed and tortured to book through international courts

So far, no official statement has been received from Myanmar on these conditions.

The failed attempts of repatriation

Under China’s mediation, Bangladesh and Myanmar set the date on 22 August 2019 for Rohingya repatriation. The Chinese officials went to Cox’s Bazar and tried to convince the Rohingyas. But at the last moment, the Rohingyas refused to return to Myanmar as their conditions were not fulfilled.

Earlier, Bangladesh and Myanmar set 15 November 2018 as the date for the Rohingya repatriation for the first time. That attempt was failed too.

After signing an agreement in November 2017, Bangladesh provided a list of 830,000 Rohingyas in eight phases to Myanmar for verification. Of them, Myanmar had returned a list of only 42,000 Rohingyas after verification.

However, this list was incomplete as not all the members of a family were included. Therefore, a question came up as to how many Rohingyas can be sent with such an incomplete list.

Although the scenario of Rohingya repatriation is disappointing, there has been some hope about the accountability of the genocide in Rakhine in recent times. The trial of genocide has already begun at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, the Netherlands over the incident of “ethnic cleansing” in Rakhine. And the International Criminal Court (ICC) has launched an investigation into Rakhine atrocities. At the same time, Rohingyas, the victims of the atrocities, have testified for the first time in a case filed in Argentina's Supreme Court.

In addition, the alternative or exiled government, known as the National Unity Government of Myanmar (NAUG), has declared its acceptance of the ICC's jurisdiction over all international crimes committed against various groups in Myanmar, including the Rohingyas, over the past two decades.

According to the international relations and diplomatic analysts, on the fourth anniversary of the Rohingya influx in Bangladesh, it is clear that there is no prospect of repatriation of Myanmar’s Muslim minority to Rakhine. After the military coup in Myanmar and the Taliban came into power in Afghanistan, the Rohingya crisis is no longer the focus of the international community as a result of geopolitical changes in the region.

In this situation Bangladesh has no choice but to emphasise on the long term solution of the Rohingya crisis. Bangladesh should bring the issue to the fore internationally that Rohigya crisis is a big threat to the security of this region including South Asia. In addition, a sustainable repatriation of Rohingyas would require a strong diplomatic effort to bring different regional quarters, including the UN, without solely depending on China.

In this situation Bangladesh has no choice but to emphasise on the long term solution of the Rohingya crisis. Bangladesh should bring the issue to the fore internationally that Rohigya crisis is a big threat to the security of this region including South Asia. In addition, a sustainable repatriation of Rohingyas would require a strong diplomatic effort to bring different regional quarters, including the UN, without solely depending on China

Bangladesh's active participation in the initiatives of various international parties is also essential to ensure repatriation and accountability for the genocide in Rakhine.

Diplomats say Bangladesh and Myanmar have separately signed two agreements with the UN to start the repatriation. Myanmar signed a tripartite agreement with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to create a congenial environment in Rakhine. However, even after four years, the UN has failed to create a congenial environment there. They have only taken some initiatives for the development of the local people.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen said it took a long time to solve the refugee crisis in various countries including several African nations and Palestine. Bangladesh’s main target was to repatriate the Rohingya on their own accord with dignity and security. The Rohingyas would not be encouraged if they have to live in camps in Myanmar as well.

The declaration of Myanmar’s exiled government to accept the jurisdiction of ICC is quite significant in ensuring accountability for the atrocities in Rakhine. Their stance would create pressure on Myanmar’s military government.

The situation in Rakhine worsens further

After the military coup in Myanmar, the overall situation, including security, in Rakhine has worsened further. According to diplomatic sources, extremist group Arakan Army takes control of the entire Rakhine state as soon as the sun sets. They even control some areas in broad daylight as well. There was fierce fighting between the Arakan Army and Myanmar Military in November and December last year.

Myanmar military’s control in the Rakhine state has decreased after the coup. Therefore, it is also important to know about the Arakan Army’s position about Rohingya repatriation.

Besides, the Rohingya crisis is no longer the focus in regional geopolitics after the Taliban came into power in Afghanistan. The diplomats say the international focus has also shifted towards Afghanistan. In these circumstances, Bangladesh has to prove its diplomatic acumen to bring the Rohingya issue before the international community. Bangladesh will have to strongly highlight the threat to regional stability due to the Rohingya crisis in different international forums.

The solution far away

The diplomats believe that Bangladesh is not being treated by the international community as logically and emphatically as it deserves after sheltering the Rohingyas. Rather, they are giving various suggestions to establish basic and human rights of the Rohingyas.

Bangladesh initiative to shift 100,000 Rohingyas from Cox’s Bazar to Bhashanchar was not accepted cordially by the international community in the beginning. However, now they are urging to ensure facilities like Bhashanchar in Cox's Bazar. One thing is clear that Rohingyas will stay in Bangladesh for a long time.

Former foreign secretary Md Shahidul Haque told Prothom that patience is the main key in solving a critical problem. Again different alternative options should be considered as well. The issue coming to the fore regarding the international accountability of Rohingya genocide is very significant. It will create pressure on Myanmar.

In addition to that, Bangladesh should strongly highlight the threats to regional stability and security if the Rohingya repatriation could not be started. Apart from that, Bangladesh should adopt a strategy to ensure that the regional big powers, including India and China, work in favour of Rohingya repatriation.

*This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu.

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