Working committee to meet in 1st week of February; verification needs to be expedited
Bangladesh has pushed Myanmar hard on creating a favourable environment for Rohingya repatriation with an expeditious verification process, and has cautiously expressed optimism to begin it in the second quarter of this year.
The two countries will address the relevant issues, including a joint working group meeting with an expansion that will be held in the first week of February to prepare the ground for the repatriation.
“Personally, I would say, I am cautiously optimistic. We will keep trying with our hearts and souls,” Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen told reporters at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after a 90-minute tripartite meeting held virtually with Myanmar and China on Tuesday.
The China-Bangladesh-Myanmar meeting was chaired by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui, and Myanmar Deputy Minister of International Cooperation Hau Do Suan led the Myanmar side.
Masud Bin Momen, who led the Bangladesh side in the meeting, said the process should start at least, and it will take a long time to send back all Rohingyas.
More importantly, the number is growing, with 90,000 children that were born in the last three years.
The foreign secretary said more complications might come, but there is no alternative to early beginning of repatriation.
Bangladesh proposed starting the repatriation in the first quarter, but Myanmar said the logistical arrangement would take some more time, especially because they have a meeting in parliament on April 1.
"Apparently, it will be difficult to begin in the first quarter," Masud Bin Momen said, adding that a DG-level hotline will be opened for instant communication between the two countries over repatriation issues.
The foreign secretary said they wanted to proceed by taking lessons from the two failed attempts before, so that this time the repatriation can be launched successfully.
“There are many factors. We are keeping those factors under consideration as previously we were not successful on two different occasions. We are taking lessons from that and finding ways on how we can become successful. We will remain engaged sincerely,” he said.
Masud Bin Momen said they did not think everything would be resolved overnight, but they want to do it taking all on board, including the international community and INGOs.
The foreign secretary said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had written to the Office of the Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) to open a repatriation wing.
The wing will be solely responsible to cover repatriation-related work as the ministry cannot do it from Dhaka directly.
Myanmar wants assurance that Rohingyas will follow the law
The Myanmar side sought assurances that the Rohingyas would abide by their laws and regulations, and also mentioned the presence of ARSA.
"We said we do not allow any insurgents or terrorist groups on our soil. There are some criminal groups, but they do not have any religious or political identities," the foreign secretary said.
When the Chinese vice minister summarized the international community’s constructive engagement, the Myanmar side did not oppose it, meaning they also agreed in principle, he said.
The three parties reviewed the progress of previous work, discussed the way forward, and reiterated the commitment to creating favourable conditions for the early repatriation of displaced Myanmar residents from Rakhine.
‘Int’l community should play more constructive role'
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui said the international community, China included, should play a constructive role instead of further complicating the situation.
“Promoting development is the fundamental way to address the issue,” he said.
The Chinese vice foreign minister pointed out that since 2017, China has been actively engaged in mediation between Bangladesh and Myanmar.
As a friend to both countries, China has been trying to bring the two parties closer by establishing various channels for dialogue, including informal foreign ministers’ meeting, vice-ministerial level meeting and tripartite working group mechanism, according to the Chinese Embassy in Dhaka.
China also facilitates direct communication between Bangladesh and Myanmar, the embassy said.
Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui reiterated China’s position that the issue of displaced people from Rakhine is ultimately a bilateral one, hence bilateral negotiation and consultation between Bangladesh and Myanmar should be prioritized for finding a durable solution.
“China is happy to see the positive outcomes of the meeting, and is ready, whenever necessary, to provide political and material assistance to complement the bilateral efforts,” he said.
Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen and Deputy Minister Hau Do Suan discussed a possible road map for starting repatriation, the modus operandi for carrying out fieldwork, and ways to strengthen bilateral and trilateral coordination.
The two sides also agreed that the issue of repatriation should be resolved with goodwill and utmost sincerity, and that an early and durable settlement would contribute to better Bangladesh-Myanmar cooperation, stronger regional connectivity, and shared prosperity for all.
The repatriation talks with Myanmar were on hold for nearly a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and general elections in Myanmar.
The international community finds the repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar as the only solution to the crisis, while Bangladesh wants to begin repatriation as soon as possible.
On the eve of discussions between Bangladesh and Myanmar on resolving the Rohingya refugee crisis, China, which provides the tripartite framework to the dialogue, said it would continue to support the other two countries to find an early and durable solution.
China also assured that it will promote peace, development, and prosperity in the region.
Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jiming met Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday and discussed the issue.
Earlier, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen said Bangladesh had handed over a list of 840,000 Rohingyas to Myanmar for verification.
"Myanmar has verified very few people. They are very slow. They verified only 42,000 people (5%). There is a serious lack of seriousness," said the foreign minister.
More than three years ago, Myanmar’s soldiers targeted, killed, and raped Rohingya and burned their villages, as the United Nations, Refugees International, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the US Department of State itself, as well as many others have documented.
Over 800,000 Rohingyas fled the genocidal violence and took shelter in Bangladesh, which is now hosting over 1.1 million of them.
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed the repatriation deal on November 23, 2017.
They then signed a document on Physical Arrangement, which was supposed to facilitate the return of Rohingyas to their homeland.
But repatriation attempts failed twice in November 2018 and August 2019 - amid Rohingyas' lack of trust in the Myanmar government.
Subsequently during the 74th UNGA held in September 2019 in New York, China took an initiative to propose the tripartite framework with their presence largely in an overseeing role, that can nevertheless hold both sides to account on their respective commitments to each other.
The Bangladesh side has already complained of Myanmar acting in bad faith during negotiations, whereby they never had any intention of taking the Rohingya back and was only meeting to keep up appearances.
However, soon after a meeting of the trio on January 20, 2020, the coronavirus lockdowns started taking its toll in different parts of the world.