By Prarthana Mitra
Myanmar has offered repatriation for 2,000 of the million Rohingya Muslims currently stationed in Bangladeshi refugee camps this week. The Guardian further reported on a “very concrete” repatriation deal for the return of the 720,000 Rohingya refugees, with the first batch being prepared to move back by “mid-November”.
A joint working committee from both countries recently met around 5,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox Bazaar, Bangladesh, for the first time since the mass killings and emigration in August 2017.
Response from United Nations
The UN, however, has expressed concerns over not being consulted about the deal between Myanmar and Bangladesh. They further said that conditions in Rakhine state were ‘not yet conducive’ to the return of the refugees. “We’re seeing Rohingya refugees continue to arrive from Rakhine state into [Bangladesh], which should give you an indication of the situation on the ground,” Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for the UN secretary general, said to the press.
“We would advise against imposing any timetable or target figures for repatriation in respect of the voluntary nature and sustainability of return,” added Chris Melzer, the UNHCR’s senior external officer based in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. “It is unclear if refugees know their names are on this list that has been cleared by Myanmar. They need to be informed. They also need to be consulted if they are willing to return … It is critical that returns are not rushed or premature,” he is reported as saying.
According to a refugee who reportedly spoke to the visiting official from Myanmar’s ministry of foreign affairs, “The returnees have to spend three days in a transit camp inside Rakhine before they are taken to another camp which will be their new home.” He received a non-committal response on whether they will get their old village back.
What was promised earlier
Earlier this year, Foreign Affairs secretary Myint Thu had said, “We will construct reception centers. The returnees will have to stay there for about two days; after receiving National Verification Card [NVC] you will be taken to model camps where you need stay for five to six months. After completion of this period you will be allowed to rehabilitate to your old land, besides this you will able to enjoy some facilities such as fishing, trading, moving, treatment and even your children can obtain education. We are ready to receive you.”
The committee of refugees, Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights [ARSPH] did not like the idea of an NVC instead of regular citizenship, and issued a letter to the government, with a list of seven demands, according to The Hindu.
History of Rohingya crisis in 8 points
- The latest announcement arrives in the wake of a critical report submitted by the United Nations Human Rights Council in September. The expedited repatriation is also being attributed to the pressure on Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, which goes to polls next month.
- In the report, UNHRC demanded punitive action against the army generals responsible for conducting the genocidal attacks on the minority community in Rakhine State.
- The UN fact-finding mission was, however, denied entry into Myanmar to fully and independently investigate the matter, following which they condemned Nobel Peace Prize awardee and State Counsellor of Myanmar, Aung Suu Kyi, for condoning one of the most violent military crackdowns in recent history, aimed at erasing an ethnic minority.
- The report was based on satellite imagery, photographs and videos and “875 in-depth interviews with victims and eyewitnesses.”
- According to The Independent, the fact-finding mission’s report categorically stated, “Military necessity would never justify killing indiscriminately, gang-raping women, assaulting children, and burning entire villages.”
- The horrific massacres and extra-judicial killings of Muslim minorities in a Buddhist-majority Myanmar began on August 25 last year. Nearly 7,00,000 Rohingya Muslims are now displaced and living in refugee camps across Bangladesh, without a home, basic rights or citizenship.
- The army had denied the claims of ethnic cleansing from the beginning and continue to maintain that they were responding to violent attacks by a Rohingya Muslim militant group.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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