Myanmar Junta Delegation Meets Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

By Muktadir Rashid   16 March 2023

DHAKA – Seventeen members of Myanmar’s immigration department are in Cox’s Bazar on the Bangladeshi coast for a week to interview Rohingya refugees to verify their repatriation claims. Aung Myo, the social welfare minister for Rakhine State, heads the delegation, the Bangladeshi officials said. Aung Myo also represented Rakhine State’s immigration and population department.

The delegation is selecting members for a pilot “family-based repatriation” project, according to the Bangladesh authorities.

Around 70 Rohingya people from 20 families were brought to a guest house for verification.

Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner in Cox’s Bazar, told The Irrawaddy that Myanmar’s regime cleared 711 Rohingya out of 1,140 refugees proposed by Bangladesh.

“Now they are interviewing some of the 429 Rohingyas who were rejected in the original list,” he said, adding that no decision on repatriation would be made by the delegation.

Bangladesh and Myanmar began the repatriation process in 2018 but no returns have been completed.

In 2019 repatriation efforts resumed after China’s mediation but the process ceased after the coup in February 2021.

Rohingyas said they feared hasty moves by the regime.

Htway Lwin, a Rohingya rights defender in Cox’s Bazar, told The Irrawaddy that dignified repatriation is the only solution as the camps were increasingly horrific and lawless.

“How we will return to our land? Will they allow us? It is not explained, it is not their ploy. How long will we be kept in the container? We have seen photos of containers and it was not clear when we will be transferred to our land and what identity we will have. Otherwise, the problem will remain the same.”

Dhaka-based daily Prothom Alo reported on March 12 reported that Myanmar’s junta took diplomats from Bangladesh, India, China and five other countries to Rakhine State last week and expressed an interest in Rohingya repatriation.

According to diplomatic sources in Dhaka and Yangon, Myanmar is taking the initiative under pressure from China.

Three months after a majority of Rohingyas were driven out of Rakhine State in November 2017, an agreement on repatriation was signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar. China was behind the agreement but there has been no progress in six years.

The diplomats visited temporary camps in Maungdaw and Sittwe in Myanmar.

On Monday Bangladeshi’s Foreign Ministry said Yang Xiaokun, a rights chief at the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry, called Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen to discuss human rights and areas for cooperation.

According to the Bangladeshi Foreign Affairs Ministry, China and Bangladesh debated multilateral rights in Dhaka on Sunday and discussed “their national human rights philosophy and achievements, ongoing developments and cooperation on human rights in the UN multilateral framework”.

“The two sides also discussed the situation of forcibly displaced Rohingya people,” the statement said.

Diplomatic sources told the Prothom Alo that China has been calling for repatriations to begin before the monsoon in June while April 24 has been set as a deadline for Myanmar to put its counterargument regarding the Rohingya genocide case at the International Court of Justice.

Bangladesh had been hosting about a million Rohingya, who mostly arrived during the August 2017 military crackdown.

The Bangladesh government earlier handed over a list of 862,000 Rohingyas to Myanmar and said it would take around 70,000 of them.