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Rohingya repatriations yet to begin as influx nears 1st anniversary

  • Published at 07:58 pm August 17th, 2018
Web_Rohingya-camp-Cox's Bazar- syed zakir hossain
File photo of a Rohingya camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

UN Security Council to hold an open briefing on August 28, as international community remains engaged

Myanmar has done little to improve conditions in Rakhine state for the safe return of Rohingyas, almost one year since its military crackdown forced hundreds of thousands of its nationals over the border into Bangladesh. 

An estimated 700,000 Rohingya have fled to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh since August 25 last year, joining 400,000 of the persecuted minority who had already been living in cramped refugee camps across the district.

With Myanmar appearing to stall on the process of repatriations, officials believe the country’s leadership is likely to face a “fresh spell of pressure” from the international community as the first anniversary of the crisis breaking approaches. 

This pressure could peak at a UN Security Council (UNSC) “open briefing” on the situation in Myanmar to be held under the UK Presidency on August 28, a senior official at the Foreign Ministry told UNB.

At the briefing, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres and the UN high commissioner for refugees are both scheduled to address the council.

Officials said that beyond this, there will be further high-level meetings and events during the General Debate and high-level segment of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in September.

“The UN will continue to pursue meaningful implementation of the memorandum of understanding signed with the Myanmar government,” Bangladesh’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, Ambassador Masud Bin Momen, told UNB.

“UNDP and UNHCR have recently issued a joint statement in this regard outlining their priorities and challenges ahead,” he said.

Another resolution?

Ambassador Momen said the UNGA is likely to adopt yet another resolution during its upcoming 73rd session, in continuation of the resolution adopted last year.

The resolution will reflect the developments and challenges since its adoption in December 2017, and will ensure the continuation of the mandate of the UN chief’s special envoy, Ambassador Christine Schraner Burgener.

Burgener has visited Myanmar twice since she assumed office and is currently working on setting up an office in Naypyidaw as agreed by the country’s government.

The Human Rights Council (HRC) will also likely consider a resolution on the human rights situation in Myanmar during its next session in September, a diplomat told UNB.

Its fact-finding mission is expected to submit its report soon, which should help map out further action on the question of accountability for the alleged atrocities committed against the Rohingyas.

‘At least something is done’

On August 11, a high-level Bangladesh delegation led by Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali and Foreign Secretary M Shahidul Haque visited Rakhine and saw the “trail of widespread devastation” suffered by the people who lived there.

They emphasized the need to accelerate efforts to create a “congenial environment” and build houses and villages for the returnees. 

Following the visit, the foreign secretary reiterated that the repatriation issue in any country is a very “complex and difficult” issue that cannot be done overnight.

"They (Myanmar) have shown what preparations they've taken so for taking the Rohingyas back from Bangladesh,” he said while responding to a question from UNB. 

“I would say at least something is done. We're hopeful (but) it will not be wise to do things in a hurry.”

Continuous engagement

Ambassador Masud Bin Momen said the international community, including the UN, remains actively engaged with the issue. 

“The focus is on providing humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya refugees, facilitating their voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity, and ensuring accountability for the alleged atrocities against them,” he said.

“A number of member states remain bilaterally engaged with Myanmar to help create the situation conducive to the sustainable repatriation of the Rohingyas to their homes in Rakhine.”

The diplomat said that António Guterres personally remains engaged with the issue, as evidenced by his latest visit to Dhaka and Cox's Bazar.

He said Special Envoy Burgener and other relevant UN entities are coordinating their activities towards “finding a durable solution to the crisis”.

Talking to UNB, Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mohammed Abul Kalam said they are waiting to see more steps as pledged by Myanmar.

Challenges for Bangladesh

Momen said the Rohingya crisis will continue to pose certain economic, social and environmental challenges to Bangladesh, particularly to the host communities in Cox's Bazar.

"It will be critical to keep the international community engaged to mitigate the impacts of those challenges, while ensuring the protection and assistance for the Rohingyas until they are in a position to return to Rakhine state in safety and dignity," he said.

“However, it remains a particular challenge to ensure that the Myanmar authorities live up to their commitments and genuinely invest in creating an enabling situation.

“(This includes) assurances of sustainable livelihoods and freedom of movement and citizenship, among other issues.” 

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