The Saudi government is mounting pressure on Bangladesh to take back 42,000 Rohingya who have Bangladeshi passports.
The issue also came up for discussion at the recent conference of Bangladesh ambassadors in Abu Dhabi.
Diplomatic sources of both the countries hinted that the matter may be discussed at the joint commission meeting scheduled to be held in Dhaka on 12 February.
Saudi Arabia thinks these Rohingya with Bangladeshi passports travelled by air to the Middle Eastern country, diplomatic sources in Dhaka and Saudi Arabia have said.
The oil rich nation has issued a number of letters asking Bangladesh to settle the matter.
Bangladesh in reply to the letters, requested the Saudi government to provide details of the matter.
A foreign ministry senior official said the matter may come up for discussion at the joint commission meeting of two countries to be held in Dhaka on 12-13 February.
Speaking to Prothom Alo about the joint commission meeting, Bangladesh ambassador to Saudi Golam Moshi said Bangladesh will focus on sending workers, trade and investment, health and education.
Saudi Arabia will focus on sending back undocumented Bangladeshis, the Bangladesh ambassador said.
When asked about sending back Bangladeshi passport holders Rohingya, Moshi said, “Saudi Arabia has not informed us of the matter in detail. The country is pressing us to take back undocumented nationals.”
Big challenge ahead
Relations between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia have recently become closer than any time in the past.
Defence agreement between the two countries, supporting Saudi government in unilateral operation against Yemen and joining Saudi-led military alliance against global militant organisation IS give indication of the close relationship.
Under these circumstances, sending back Bangladeshi passport holding Rohingya is a big challenge, Bangladesh diplomats have said.
The foreign ministry organised a conference of diplomats in the Middle East countries on 13 January.
Several diplomats who attended the conference, said Golam Moshi told prime minister Sheikh Hasina that sending back Rohingya to Bangladeshit is a big challenge for the relations between the two countries regarding.
Ambassadors said Riyadh recently sent a letter to Dhaka to take back 42,000 Rohingya holding Bangladeshi passports. Saudi Arabia will mount pressure to take them back in next few years.
The government should take a policy decision in this regard, the ambassadors added.
Most of them near Makkah
In the second half of 2019, Saudi Arabia in a letter requested Bangladesh to take back 42,000 Rohingya.
A senior official said most of these Rohingya people are located near Makkah.
Most of these Rohingya travelled to Saudi Arabia between 2012 and 2014.
Diplomatic sources said these Rohingya went to Saudi Arabia with Bangladeshi passports. Some have taken passports or renewed them from Bangladesh mission in Saudi Arabia.
Problem not new
In 2007-08 and 2009-10, Saudi Arabia brought up the matter of sending back Rohingya who hold Bangladeshi passports. The country did not say anything at that time formally.
Saudi foreign minister raised the matter when the then Bangladesh foreign minister Abul Hasan Mahmuud Ali visited to Saudi Arabia in 2016.
Bangladesh at that time said Aung San Suu Kyi may go to power in the Myanmar election. Rohingya crisis will be resolved if power in Myanamar is changed.
Director of Centre for Genocide Studies at Dhaka University, professor Imtiaz Ahmed said, “Saudi Arabia also knows that Bangladeshi passport holders Rohingyas are the nationals of Myanmar. They have gone to Saudi with Bangladeshi passports due to weakness in our system. But there is no reason that we have to bring them back”.
Bangladesh has to negotiate diplomatically with Saudi Arabia to reach a solution, he suggested.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.