Rohingya repatriation might be delayed

Shishir Moral & Raheed Ejaz | Update:

Rohingya refugees make their way to a refugee camp after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Palong Khali, near Cox`s Bazar. ReutersUncertainty looms large over the beginning of repatriation of Rohingyas this month as the concerned authorities are yet to complete the list of 100,000 Rohingyas’ names, to be handed over to the Myanmar authorities.

Earlier, the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar signed the Rohingya repatriation deal on 23 November in 2017 and formed a joint working group (JWG) to oversee the repatriation process.

The concerned officials feel that preparing the list, one of the main instruments to repatriate the Rohingyas to Myanmar, is near impossible before the first meeting of the JWG in Naypyidaw on 15 January.

Bangladesh’s foreign secretary Md Shahidul Haque and his Myanmar counterpart Myint Thu will lead their respective countries in the JWG.

On condition of anonymity, a member of the national taskforce formed about the undocumented Myanmar citizens, told Prothom Alo on Wednesday that they are yet to begin preparing the list of 100,000 Rohingyas.

Officials of several ministries, working in Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar to repatriate to Rohingyas, said Myanmar will give final approval after vetting the list provided by Bangladesh.

Officials said they have been putting emphasis on a family and locality-based list. This cross checking will take some time.

On the other hand, the office of the refugee relief and repatriation commission (RRRC) said they could not begin preparing the list of Rohingyas to be repatriated in the first segment, till Monday. The joint working group led by the foreign secretary constituted a nine-member technical committee to prepare the list. But the committee neither held any meeting nor fixed a standard for preparing the list.

However, in response to a question on whether the Bangladesh delegation would be able to handover the list of 100,000 Rohingyas to Myanmar on 15 January JWG, the refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam said to Prothom Alo, “There is enough time. Some of the work has already been done.”

Till Tuesday, the immigration and passport department reportedly registered a total of 964,993 Rohingyas, including those who were already living in Bangladesh for a few years.

Prothom Alo learnt that the immigration and passport department’s list will be used to prepare the list of 100,000 Rohingyas.

Mohammad Abul Kalam said the Rohingyas also came to Bangladesh several times in the past and were repatriated but the repatriation was not sustainable. Bangladesh wants to begin the new repatriation process based on previous experience.

On Wednesday evening foreign secretary Shahidul Haque told Prothom Alo that they would put emphasis on finalising the agreement on ‘physical arrangement’ in the first meeting of JWG to begin the repatriation process. Besides, they would consider handing over the list of Rohingyas to Myanmar.

Uninterested to go back to Rakhine

While the two countries are making preparations for repatriation, many Rohingyas have expressed their reluctance to return to Rakhine.

The three-member family of Habibullah has been staying at Shyamlapur Rohingya camp in Teknaf of Cox’s Bazar for four months. Habibullah wants to stay here forever as he sees the future of his 18-months-old son in Bangladesh. On Tuesday Habibullah said, “I will get ration here and survive. I won’t go to Myanmar even if I die.”

Osman, who has been staying at Balukhali 2/2 camp in Ukhia, told Prothom Alo on Monday, “Why should we return there until human rights are ensured? The question of returning can only arise after full implementation of the Annan Commission recommendations. I don’t think it will be done any time soon.”

The local people are also uncertain about the intentions of the governments of the two countries. Mofizul Alam of Monkhali village in Ukhia told this correspondent on Wednesday, “I don’t think Bangladesh will send them back or that the Burma government will accept them.”

*This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza

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