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Rohingya repatriation: No third attempt without confirming success

  • Published at 07:58 pm October 3rd, 2019
File Photo: Rohingya men and women migrating to different camps in Cox Bazar Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

According to a bilateral instrument signed by Bangladesh, and Myanmar on November 23, 2017, the repatriation was supposed to begin within January 22, 2018, and to be complete by January 22, 2020. But, not a single Rohingya is yet to be repatriated

Following two failed attempts, Bangladesh will not make a third one to begin the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas sheltered in Cox’s Bazar, without the confirmation of success, concerned officials said.

However, none of them could say as to when the condition may be created to make the third repatriation attempt.

The officials also told Dhaka Tribune that the second attempt on August 22 was made in a hurried manner due to the eagerness of China.

The transfer of former Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) Abul Kalam and several camp-in-charges (CICs) in the wake of the failed repatriation, and August 25 rally could have been handled better, as this has exposed Bangladesh’s 'weakness' to Myanmar, they added.

“We are not going to make any attempt before being sure that the repatriation will actually happen. Even if the repatriation starts in a small scale, that will be a good thing,” said a senior foreign ministry official with a thorough knowledge of the issue.

When asked about a possible date for the beginning of the repatriation, he said: “You know Myanmar is a difficult neighbour that changes goalpost very often. Therefore, no specific date can even be thought about.”

“There is no point in making another attempt to begin the repatriation before knowing of its success. We, with the help of other countries, including China, are trying to convince Myanmar to create a favourable condition for the return of the displaced Rohingyas,” said another senior official deeply engaged with the crisis.

To a question, he said: “Myanmar never lives up to its pledges. They say one thing today, and another tomorrow. When you deal with a country like this, it is extremely difficult to say when the repatriation will begin. We will only believe it when the first Rohingya heads back to his or her home in Rakhine.”

Both officials reminded that the two repatriation attempts – of November 15, 2018, and August 22 – did not materialize due to the failure of Myanmar to create the necessary conditions for the return of their own people.

>> No idea when the repatriation may begin

>> Second attempt was made hurriedly without adequate preparations due to China’s eagerness

>> RRRC informed on August 9 about repatriation attempt on August 22

>> Removal of RRRC, and several CICs could have been handled better

According to a bilateral instrument signed by Bangladesh, and Myanmar on November 23, 2017, the repatriation was supposed to begin within January 22, 2018, and to be complete by January 22, 2020. But, not a single Rohingya is yet to be repatriated.

About the second attempt of repatriation, the officials of the government, and international organisations said that the arrangement was done in a very hurried manner without adequate preparations due to the eagerness of China.

“The RRRC was informed on August 9 that repatriation will begin on August 22. Within that period, there was a lengthy holiday for Eid-ul-Azha. So, it was difficult for the office of RRRC to make all the necessary preparations. On top of that we have an unwilling neighbour,” said a senior government official, adding: “Despite the fact that preparations were made as best as possible.”

There has been a mixed feeling among the officials this correspondent spoke to about the implication of the second attempt.

Some, especially the government officials said that the attempt made China, the main backer of Myanmar, realise that Bangladesh is ready to begin the repatriation while its neighbour is not. While some said that the attempt allowed Myanmar to run a propaganda campaign claiming that it is ready to accept the Rohingyas while Bangladesh is not.

Despite repeated attempts, the Chinese embassy could not be reached for comments.

The officials also shed light on the removal of former RRRC Kalam, and several CICs on the heel of the failed attempt, and August 25 rally, saying that this matter could have been handled in a much better way.

According to them, the removal of the officials, including the main government official on the ground with regards to the crisis, at that time has served ‘nothing but the purposes of Myanmar’.

The move was perceived by Myanmar as ‘Bangladesh is in disarray’, they added.

“The transfer of a government official is a routine affair. If these officials were to be transferred, it could have been done gradually, giving pauses so that it looked normal,” said a senior government official.

“Myanmar must have been clapping to see the removal of the main person on the ground in such an abrupt manner. The government could have acted more calmly,” said an official of an international organisation.

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