How Long Will It Take To Repatriate The Rohingyas?


Bangladesh is sheltering 1.25 million Rohingyas for last six years. International community and the regional countries along with all stakeholders are aware of the situation. China’s initiative prompted the Myanmar authority to create a pilot project to gradually repatriate Rohingyas and begin repatriation. Although no visible progress was made in this issue and the process is not yet started.

In the meantime Western countries, including the United Nations and the United States, have opposed this pilot project. They expressed that the current situation in Myanmar is not conducive to start the repatriation. Last month representatives of various donor countries and organizations visited the Rohingya camp to observe the situation as well as to get the information from them. On July 6, International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Asad Ahmad Khan visited the Rohingya camp with a delegation of ten ICC members to examine the torture and persecution of the Rohingyas in Myanmar. During their visit to the camp, they met a delegation from the Rohingya community and learned about the Myanmar army’s torture and cruelty, the situation of their escape, and the army’s brutality against Rohingya women.

The ICC is gathering these evidences and materials in order to prosecute and hold responsible Myanmar military personals involved in the Rohingya atrocity. The Prosecutor of the ICC examined the situation in the Rohingya camps, the law and order system, and their support, and voiced concern over the decline in food supplies. He believes that as a result of this, the law and order situation in the camp would deteriorate, negatively impacting women and children.

On July 12, a US delegation led by Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya visited the Rohingya camp. The delegation members discussed several topics with Rohingya community leaders and representatives, including education, health, housing, and repatriation. After hearing from Rohingya leaders, the US Under Secretary of State urged them not to engage in violence among themselves, but rather to wait for international justice on repatriation and torture in Myanmar.

At the time, the Rohingyas wanted the US to put pressure on Myanmar to begin safe, sustainable and dignified repatriation to Myanmar. The US representative reiterated their support for Rohingya repatriation and assistance, announcing another $7.4 million in aid for the Rohingyas. This assistance will be used for the internally displaced Rohingyas in Myanmar, Rohingyas who have taken refuge in Bangladesh, their host communities and others.

Under the initiative of Bangladesh, the OIC member states presented a resolution titled ‘Human rights situation for Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar’ during the 53rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. On July 14, the United Nations unanimously passed this resolution emphasizing the need for a long-term solution to the ongoing crisis by repatriating the Rohingyas from Bangladesh to Myanmar and guaranteeing accountability and justice for these people.

Since the proposal was launched, there have been clear divisions between UN member states on a variety of subjects, owing to Myanmar’s volatile political and security environment. After much deliberation, the proposal was unanimously approved by the UN Human Rights Council. While complimenting Bangladesh’s government for providing temporary refuge to the Rohingyas, the resolution voiced worry about the dissatisfaction caused by the prolonged uncertainty over repatriation and its multiple harmful consequences.

The resolution calls for more international collaboration to address the Rohingyas’ diminishing and insufficient relief aid, with a focus on long-term and voluntary repatriation by quickly creating conducive environment in Rakhine. The proposal also supports the ongoing trial process in the International Court of Justice by emphasizing the importance of bringing the accused and responsible parties before regional and international justice systems, as well as strengthening the investigation process for all types of torture, crimes against humanity, and war crimes against the Rohingyas.

On July 24, a five-member delegation led by the European Union (EU) Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmour, visited Bangladesh and spoke with government authorities concerned about Rohingyas and human rights, as well as visiting the Cox’s Bazar Rohingya camp. Along with their issues, the Rohingya leaders urged support for safe repatriation at this time. The Rohingyas expressed that they are unhappy with their current situation; with donor organizations cutting food supplies and increased killings and kidnappings in the camps, they are living in fear and want to return to their homeland through safe repatriation.

According to Eamon Gilmour, the Rohingya issue must be resolved in Myanmar. The military coup has exacerbated the situation in Myanmar, and the EU has refused to recognize Myanmar’s military government and has put numerous sanctions on the country. The EU has appointed a special envoy for Myanmar and is working together on the Myanmar problem with other countries, particularly ASEAN.

He highlighted his concern about the ongoing financial problems to address the Rohingya situation. The EU’s assistance to the Rohingyas will continue, and additional funds will be provided if necessary. They will also work together with governments from EU member states and other nations to address the funding situation. The EU will continue its efforts in the UN Human Rights Council and other forums to facilitate the Rohingya’s voluntary, dignified, and sustainable repatriation.

The Representative Committee of Displaced Myanmar Nationals (FDMN) planned a rally with Rohingya women on July 27 under the banner of “Reintroducing Women’s Leadership,” breaking with Rohingya tradition. More than a thousand Rohingya women of various ages spontaneously participated in this rally. There is no option to empower women in the era of globalization, and despite being a backward community, Rohingya women breaking traditions and attending the rally is a respectable and bold act. Representatives for Rohingya women stated that they no longer want to live a sheltered life and want to return to their homeland. According to figures published by the Bangladesh government and UNHCR, women now make up 52 percent of all Rohingyas in camps. This is the first time they have participated in the repatriation program, and they have demonstrated that Rohingya women cannot be stopped if they are unified. The engagement in the repatriation of Rohingya women surely adds a new dimension to this endeavor.

China is still involved in the repatriation process. Despite the lack of obvious progress in the pilot project for a variety of reasons, there has recently been some hope in Rohingya repatriation. Deng Xijun, China’s Special Envoy for Asia visited Dhaka on July 30 to negotiate repatriation, adding a new dimension to the long-running debate over Rohingya repatriation. China is making progress, with the goal of completing the repatriation of 7,000 Rohingya in stages by December.

Since the Rohingyas do not want to return to the camps in Myanmar, Myanmar has agreed to resettle the Rohingyas in the areas where they once lived, rather than sending them to model villages or camps. Myanmar says the Rohingyas will be insured for the first three months when they return to Myanmar and are allowed to fish and farm for a living. This is the second visit of the Chinese envoy to Dhaka in less than four months. On July 31, the Chinese Ambassador had a meeting with Foreign Minister of Bangladesh. During the discussion, priority was given to the repatriation of 1,176 Rohingyas under the pilot project. Before arriving in Bangladesh, the Chinese envoy visited Myanmar. The Chinese ambassador told Bangladesh that Myanmar was willing to repatriate the Rohingyas.

Currently, there is a tripartite program to repatriate the Rohingyas. With the goodwill of Western countries and donors, it takes China and the will of the Rohingyas to solve this problem. Donor countries and organizations are aware of the decline in food aid to the Rohingyas and related issues. To initiate the repatriation of the Rohingyas, the government of Bangladesh is continuing bilateral negotiations with Myanmar and discussing the issue at multilateral forums.  As a result, the resolution on the Rohingya crisis was unanimously passed by the UN Human Rights Council.

Bangladesh firmly believes that this problem can be solved through discussion.  Most of the Rohingyas want to return to their country and Rohingya women are also expressing a need to repatriate, which is very encouraging. China’s tripartite initiative on the Rohingya repatriation pilot project has encountered various obstacles, but Bangladesh remains optimistic about it. Despite all these on-going initiatives, till now nobody can say when the repatriation will start. Even though, Bangladesh hopes that the UN, donor countries, humanitarian aid agencies, groups working for the interests and rights of the Rohingyas, and organizations related to the protection of Women’s rights will support the repatriation by playing an active role in addressing this unresolved issue.

– Brig Gen (Retd.) Hasan Md Shamsuddin, ndc, psc, afwc, Mphil, is a Lead Researcher for the Rohingya, Myanmar and ASEAN Affairs at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

Published in Eurasia Review [Link]