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Three years on, Rohingya repatriation still uncertain

  • Published at 09:03 pm August 24th, 2020

Myanmar has failed to address the root causes of widespread abuse against the Rohingya and has refused to create the necessary conditions for their safe, dignified, and voluntary return

Tuesday marks three years since the day hundreds of Rohingyas fled their homeland following a crackdown by the Myanmar military, aided by local Buddhist mobs and miscreants from other ethnic groups in northwest Rakhine.

It is Bangladesh who provided shelter in Cox’s Bazar to the Rohingyas, often described as one of the world’s most persecuted communities.

Since August 25, 2017, about 740,000 Rohingyas have arrived in Bangladesh. Despite limited resources, Bangladesh has given the refugees shelter and security. The arrivals after August 25, 2017, are in addition to 80,000 Rohingyas who took shelter in 2016, and nearly 300,000 who have been living in Bangladesh for decades.

Now, the country continues to bear the burden of over one million Rohingyas from the Rakhine state of Myanmar.

Three years has passed, but still no one really knows when the displaced Rohingyas will be able to return to their homes in Rakhine, even though repatriation should have been complete by now as per a bilateral instrument signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Failure in repatriation because Myanmar shows no interest

Despite the good intentions of Bangladesh in trying to find an arrangement that is beneficial for all parties, Myanmar has never seemed interested in taking its people back. 

In the last two years, there were two attempts at repatriation: one in November 2018 and the other on August 22 this year. Neither saw any success as the Myanmar authorities failed to earn the trust of the Rohingyas, which led the persecuted people to express their unwillingness to return.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, said creating conditions that are conducive to the Rohingya people’s safe and sustainable return will require the engagement of all and society as a whole.

In a statement on Friday, UNHCR laid emphasis on resuming and enhancing dialogue between the Myanmar authorities and the Rohingya refugees, as well as other measures that help inspire trust.

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These include lifting restrictions on freedom of movement, reconfirming that internally displaced Rohingya can return to their own villages, and providing a clear pathway towards citizenship, it said.

Ultimately, UNHCR said the solution to the plight of the Rohingya lies in Myanmar and in comprehensively implementing the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, to which the Government of Myanmar has committed.

The international community must not only maintain support for refugees and their host communities, but also adapt to critical needs and expand the search for solutions, the UN body said.

For Nazma Begum of Balukhali camp 8, a return to her homeland in Rakhine is all she wants.

“But we want citizenship. We want to move freely in my country as you do here; we want education there like you get here. My mind will never be at peace till I return to my country, but we need freedom, citizenship, and security,” said the 32-year-old woman who arrived in Bangladesh three years ago.

Abdul Hamid, another resident of the Rohingya camp, said they are always ready to go back, but only if nationality and security are ensured.

When will the relocation to Bhashan Char begin?

Bangladesh had planned to relocate the Rohingyas to Bhashan Char, a coastal island, but it later decided to hold back on the plan amid reservations from different quarters, including the United Nations.

306 Rohingyas rescued in the Bay of Bengal have already been sheltered on the Island.

Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh, Masud Bin Momen, said on Monday that Bangladesh wants to start the initial transfer of Rohingyas to Bhasan Char after the monsoons and to allow them to inspect the arrangements there.

Demand for safe return of Rohingyas

Human Rights Watch in a statement on Monday said the Myanmar government has failed to ensure that nearly one million Rohingya refugees can safely return home in the three years since they fled the Myanmar military’s crimes against humanity and possible genocide.

Also Read- Timeline: Three years on, a look at the Rohingya crisis

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in January 2020 imposed provisional measures on Myanmar to prevent genocide, while it adjudicates alleged violations of the Genocide Convention.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in November 2019 began an investigation into Myanmar’s forced deportation of the Rohingya and related crimes against humanity. Myanmar has not complied with these international justice measures, has not permitted the United Nations to investigate grave crimes inside the country, nor has it conducted credible criminal investigations of its own into its military’s atrocities.

Myanmar has failed to address the root causes of widespread abuse against the Rohingya and has refused to create the necessary conditions for their safe, dignified, and voluntary return.

Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW, said: “Myanmar needs to accept an international solution that provides for the safe, voluntary return of Rohingya refugees, while an understandably stretched Bangladesh should not make conditions inhospitable for refugees who have nowhere to go.”

Asked, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen said resolving the Rohingya crisis requires more pressure on Myanmar.

“We are continuously emphasizing repatriation and requesting different platforms and nations to put pressure on Myanmar to take the Rohingyas back,” he said.