The repatriation process of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh back to Myanmar is scheduled to begin today, Thursday, and all preparations are in place.
However, the refugees are reluctant to return as the situation in their home state of Rakhine remains adverse to their repatriation. In the meantime, quarters opposed to their repatriation are taking full advantage of the situation to stall the process. All this has rendered their return uncertain.
The first deadline for repatriation of the Rohingya refugees has been set for 15 November 2018. Not a single refugee could be sent back then as they refused to leave their camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
At present too, unless the refugees want to voluntarily return, they cannot be sent back. Then this will be a second failed attempt at their repatriation.
There are some changes noticeable, however, this time. Last time the Rohingyas were reluctant to speak and the local and international anti-repatriation groups were active.
With the efforts of the law enforcement agencies and the security forces, 21 Rohingya families on Tuesday and 214 families on Wednesday went to be interviewed at the offices of the United Nations refugee organisation, UNHCR, and the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC).
Also, for the first time two diplomats of the Chinese embassy and one of the Myanmar embassy in Dhaka are in Cox’s Bazar observing the situation.
Despite all this, it is uncertain whether the repatriation will actually begin today, Thursday. Those who went to meet with the UNHCR and RRRC officials have told the media that they are not willing to return to Rakhine.
Speaking about the matter to Prothom Alo, RRRC commissioner Mohammed Abul Kalam said on Tuesday, “We are fully prepared to repatriate the Rohingyas. We will visit the Rohingya camps along with representatives from the China and Myanmar embassies on Thursday morning. If anyone wants to return to Rakhine that will be arranged. Five buses and a truck will be ready at three camps for the purpose.”
Cox’s Bazar deputy commissioner Md Kamal Hossain told Prothom Alo that they were hopeful about the process. “We are ready,” he said, “Let’s see what happens.”
235 families interviewed
At least 214 Rohingya families were interviewed from 10:00 in the morning on Wednesday at the office of RRRC assistant Khaled Hossain in Jadimora Shalbagan camp in Teknaf.
Recently the Myanmar government sent a list of 3540 persons of 1033 families for repatriation. Of them, 3091 of 933 families are in the Jadimora Shalbagan camp. However, most of the Rohingyas on this list could not be located.
Zafar Alam (41) was interviewed on Wednesday. He told Prothom Alo that the UNHCR officials had asked him if he was willing to return. He said he would return if their five-point demand was met.
It was observed that none of the Rohingyas were willing to return unless their demands were fulfilled.
Firm about five-point demand
A visit to the Jadimora Shalbagan camp on Wednesday saw that leaflets in English and Burmese were being distributed, highlighting the five-point demand. One of the Rohingyas there, Md Alamgir, said that these were the demands of 80 per cent of the 1.1 million Rohingyas in Bangladesh.
The points include: 1. The parliament must pass a law acknowledging that the Rohingyas were local people as they were permanent residents in Rakhine; 2. The Rohingyas in Rakhine must be given citizenship and ID cards; 3. The Rohingyas must be returned to their own villages and their grabbed lands must be returned; 4. UN peace keeping forces must be deployed alongside the Rohingya police force to protect the lives and property of the Rohingyas in Arakan; and 5. The criminals must be tried in the international criminal court rather than the local court in Myanmar.
*The report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir