Bangladesh will sign a document with the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, to carry forward the repatriation process as the international community reiterated its call for ‘safe, voluntary and dignified’ return of Rohingyas from Bangladesh to Myanmar to make their return sustainable.
“They (UNHCR) gave a draft memorandum of understanding (MoU). We’re working on it and we will sign it once finalized,” Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali told reporters after briefing diplomats at state guesthouse Padma on Sunday evening.
Myanmar, however, does not want UNHCR’s involvement right now but want the involvement of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The Foreign Minister said Myanmar agreed to involve the UNHCR when necessary but not now.
In order to ensure that the return is voluntary, Bangladesh has incorporated provisions for involvement of UNHCR and other relevant international organizations in the entire return process, he added.
Minister Ali briefed the Western and non-Muslim countries’ diplomats and diplomats from Muslim majority countries separately. Foreign Secretary M Shahidul Haque also attended the briefing.
When his attention was drawn over diplomats’ call for voluntary repatriation, Minister Ali said Bangladesh also favours “voluntary” return and this was mentioned in the three documents so far signed with Myanmar over Rohingya repatriation.
The Foreign Minister said Myanmar involved China, Japan and India for the development of Rakhine State and he is likely to visit Rakhine State to see the progress.
He mentioned that Bangladesh tried to create space for international actors in every phase of the return, resettlement and reintegration.
In this regard he referred to the initiatives of India, China and Japan in developing resettlement facilities in the Rakhine State and encouraged the international community to offer similar helps to Myanmar.
Bangladesh also proposed to take Ambassadors of the European counties in Myanmar to take them to the Rakhine State like Myanmar’s five neighbouring countries.
Asked whether the repatriation will begin on Tuesday as reported by Myanmar media, Minister Ali said, “I won’t tell any date. But you see process has already started.”
Asked whether Rohingyas are willing to go back, he said, “We can’t send them forcibly.”
Minister Ali said Bangladesh said continuous support from the international community to successfully repatriate the Rohingyas.
Earlier, diplomats stationed in Dhaka on Sunday laid emphasis on ‘safe, voluntary and dignified’ return of Rohingyas from Bangladesh to Myanmar to make their return sustainable.
They also laid emphasis on creating environment with necessary development in Rakhine State so that Rohingyas feel safe and confident to return to Myanmar.
The diplomats also assured of continuing support to Bangladesh to facilitate the repatriation process.
Talking to reporters, Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka Harsh Vardhan Shringla said it is necessary to have sustainable development in Rakhine State in order to create an environment for safe and sustainable of return of Rohingyas.
“We always believe there should be sustainable development in the Rakhine State in order to create an environment so that they feel to go back their home,” Shringla said emphasizing on social and economic development there with better livelihood for Rohingyas.
He said India is facilitating the repatriation process as they want to see restoration of normalcy in the Rakhine State. “In fact our effort is to help by doing something on the ground.”
The High Commissioner said all parties will have to work to create the condition that is necessary.
British High Commissioner Alison Blake said the return should be “safe, voluntary and dignified” so that it becomes sustainable.
“We are with your government,” US Ambassador in Dhaka Marcia Bernicat also laid emphasis on safe return of Rohingyas.
Sharing her experience, she said Rohingyas are not willing to go back to their homes and that is the key challenge and emphasized on development in the Rakhine Sate so that Rohingyas feel safe to return.
She assured of US support to Bangladesh to complete the process.
Ambassadors, High Commissioners and representatives of 52 missions including USA, UK, KSA, India, China, Japan, Qatar and the European Union engaged into interactive discussions with the Foreign Minister during the briefing session on the practical questions related to sustainable return.
The diplomats commended the people and government of Bangladesh, particularly Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, for taking the courageous decision and sheltering the persecuted Rohingyas and also for managing a humanitarian situation of such magnitude so efficiently.
They committed to continue their support towards achieving sustainable solution to the Rohingya crisis.
On January 16, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a document on ‘Physical Arrangement’ which will facilitate return of Rohingays to their homeland from Bangladesh.
The ‘Physical Arrangement’ stipulates that the repatriation would be completed preferably within two years from the commencement of repatriation.
Foreign Ministry officials in Dhaka said verification and return of Rohingyas will be based on considering the family as a unit and Bangladesh and Myanmar also finalised the ‘form’ for verification.
The modalities for the repatriation of orphans and children born out of unwarranted incidence have been incorporated in the said arrangement.
“The verification form will be distributed among all Rohingya families. The forms will be then handed over to Myanmar authority for scrutiny. Myanmar will send back the forms to Bangladesh after scrutiny,” an official told UNB indicating that the full-scale repatriation might take some time.
Each Rohingya family members will have to provide a number of information including names, gender, birthplace, name of mother and father, date of birth, address in Myanmar, profession, signs, number of family members and a group family photo.
Under the ‘Physical Arrangement’ Bangladesh will establish five transit camps from which returnees would be received initially in two reception centers on Myanmar side.
Myanmar will shelter the returnees in a temporary accommodation at the Hla Pho Khung and expeditiously rebuild the houses for the returnees to move in there.
Myanmar will consider resettling the people staying at the zero line on a priority basis, according to the agreement.