Dhaka, July 29 (UNB) – Bangladesh on Monday handed a fresh list of 25,000 Rohingyas from around 6,000 families to Myanmar for verification before their repatriation to their place of origin in Rakhine State.
With the latest list, Bangladesh has so far handed the names of around 55,000 Rohingyas to the Myanmar authorities and around 8,000 of them have been verified.
Acting Foreign Secretary Kamrul Ahsan conveyed it to reporters after a marathon meeting with a Myanmar delegation led by its Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Myint Thu. The meeting was held at State guesthouse Meghna.
Myint Thu said they are trying to convince the Rohingyas to go back to Myanmar but Rohingya representatives, during their discussions at Rohingya camps, smiled when they were requested to return.
“I asked them (Rohingyas) that this is the right time for them to consider whether they should go back or not because we explained the key issues. So, this is their personal decision to go back,” said the Myanmar Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary.
Asked what feedback they got from Rohingyas, he said, “They all are (were) smiling.”
Responding to a UNB question over the slow progress on Myanmar side, Myint Thu said they have been ready since January 23, 2018. “We’re ready to welcome them…we’re ready to receive them. But the only thing is they have to decide by themselves. We’ve provided them with information. We’ve heard their voices and concerns.”
Trust Deficit Remains
Kamrul Ahsan said building trust among Rohingyas is a major issue and Rohingyas have three key demands — citizenship, freedom of movement and economic activities–and returning to their place of origin from where they were uprooted.
“One such visit can’t solve these issues. They (Myanmar) need to come more to create the place of confidence among them (Rohingyas),” he said.
Kamrul Ahsan said Rohingyas will not go back to their home until the trust is rebuilt. “We won’t force anybody to go against their will.”
Asked about the possibility of resuming repatriation before September next, he said Bangladesh, in two phases, handed lists of 30,000 Rohingyas to Myanmar in the past and today (Monday) they gave a fresh list of around 6,000 families with 25,000 names.
Myint Thu said this time they brought the representatives of Asean which conducted the preliminary need assessment in Northern Rakhine in March this year and they shared their experiences.
“We’ll continue to engage with people through a joint working group mechanism, as well as our collaboration with the government of Bangladesh,” he said highlighting their cooperation with Asean friends.
The Myanmar delegation leader said they will continue to discuss the repatriation process as well as how they cooperate between the two governments, Asean member states and friendly countries to help accelerate the verification and repatriation process.
A representative of Asean, who attended the meeting, said what they did in Northern Rakhine was a preliminary need assessment to review the repatriation plan, assess the readiness of the facilities and find the areas for collaboration.
“This is part of a series of assessments,” he said indicating that they may expand the assessment in Cox’s Bazar.
The official also said the Rohingya community wants that their voices need to be heard. “And we want to listen to them.”
Commenting on Asean’s involvement, Kamrul Ahsan said, “We would say this is a good sign. It can be said the repatriation process is moving in the good direction.
Responding to a question, he said UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener is actually serving as a bridge between the UN system and the government of Myanmar on the issues of Rakhine.
“So, she’s helping us resolve the issues,” he said adding that she is also regularly reporting to the UNGA and UNSC as well as the Human Rights Council based in Geneva. Her role is the bridge between UN system and the government of Myanmar how they work together to address the emerging issues in Northern Rakhine.
Myint Thu said the factsheet that they prepared and circulated in the camps included her suggestions. “So, we came up with a factsheet providing information on the repatriation process, access to justice, access to education, health and social services and then citizenship issues.”
Bangladesh is now hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas and most of them entered the country since August 25, 2017. Bangladesh and Myanmar signed the repatriation deal on November 23, 2017.
On January 16, 2018 Bangladesh and Myanmar inked a document on “Physical Arrangement”, which was supposed to facilitate the return of Rohingyas to their homeland.
The “Physical Arrangement” stipulates that the repatriation will be completed preferably within two years from the start.
The first batch of Rohingyas was scheduled to return on November 15 last year but it was halted amid unwillingness of Rohingyas to return for lack of a congenial environment in Rakhine.