The last meeting of the foreign secretary level joint working group (JWG) between Bangladesh and Myanmar was held in May 2019. The next JWG meeting was scheduled to have been held in Dhaka at the start of this year, but this was not held due to the outbreak of coronavirus. So talks on Rohingya repatriation have been stalled for the past 16 months.

Myanmar’s general election is being held on 8 November and so it is not likely that any talks on repatriation will be held between the two countries for the next two months or so. Given this stalemate in repatriation, Bangladesh recently raised the issue again with China. China has assured Bangladesh that it will hold discussions with Myanmar on the issue once the elections are over.

Meanwhile, the clashes in Rakhine between the Arakan army and the Myanmar military have created further complications in the repatriation of the Rohingyas. It had been hoped that the repatriation issue would feature in the meeting of donors assisting Rohingyas organised on 22 October by the US, UK and the European Union. But while this meeting made pledges for fresh assistance to the Rohingyas, no decision was made about their repatriation.

Powerful countries seem quite interested in the problem, but they are more interested in their own political clout than in the Rohingyas. If that is so, the problem will drag on further rather than be solved
ANM Muniruzzaman, president, BIPSS

Diplomats and international analysts feel that the meeting could also have been influenced by China-US tensions in South Asia and the entire world, as well as the elections in Myanmar and the US. The Trump administration perhaps wants to deliver the message to the US voters that they are endeavouring to thwart China’s influence on leadership anywhere in the world. And the US may also be wanting to let Myanmar know that while pressure on them will increase, these discussions have nothing to do with repatriation.

Speaking about the impact of geopolitics on the Rohingya crisis, president of Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS) ANM Muniruzzaman told Prothom Alo, “I can see that the problem is being drawn out. Powerful countries seem quite interested in the problem, but they are more interested in their own political clout than in the Rohingyas. If that is so, the problem will drag on further rather than be solved.”

If the activities of the international community over the past three years concerning the Rohingya issue are analysed, it will be seen that the focus is entirely in humanitarian assistance and accountability regarding the brutalities on the Rohingyas. The US, UK and the European Union have imposed an embargo on Myanmar’s army chief and a few others, but trade and commerce with the country continues. So in that sense, the international community has done nothing to put pressure on Myanmar. In fact, in recent talks between the European Union and Myanmar on human rights, the word ‘Rohingya’ was not uttered even once. While it may make statements and speeches about putting pressure on Myanmar, the European Union is unwilling to displease Myanmar.

Director of Dhaka University’s Centre for Genocide Studies, Imtiaz Ahmed, speaking to Prothom Alo on the overall issue, said multilateral pressure must be put on Myanmar to resolve the Rohingya crisis, but till now China, Japan and India have been lending Myanmar their support. As India and Japan have active civil societies, they can mobilise public opinion against supporting Myanmar in the Rohingya crisis. If India and Japan move away from Myanmar, it will not be easy for China to singularly support a country that has been accused of genocide.

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

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