Burma, Bangladesh Agree to Talks on Refugees

By Reuters 13 January 2017

RANGOON & DHAKA, Bangladesh — Burma has agreed to begin talks with Bangladesh over an estimated 65,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled Burma’s northwestern Arakan State since attacks on border posts three months ago, a senior Burma official said on Thursday.

State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi dispatched a special envoy to Dhaka this week in a thaw in the troubled relations between the neighbors, who each see the stateless Rohingya as the other’s problem.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs U Kyaw Tin on Wednesday that Burma must accept back all “Burma nationals” in Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi premier’s spokesman said.

Daw Aye Aye Soe, director general of Burma’s foreign affairs ministry, said the two countries would start discussions on an “identification and verification process.”

“If they find they are from Burma, they will be repatriated at the appropriate time,” she said, adding there was “no timeline” for the talks.

The agreement marks a rare bright spot in the two countries’ bilateral relations, which are complicated by as many as 500,000 Rohingyas living in Bangladesh after fleeing decades of persecution in Burma.

The United Nations says about 65,000 more people have fled the Muslim-majority northern part of Arakan State to Bangladesh since attacks that killed nine Burma border police on Oct. 9, sparking a heavy-handed security response.

A quick resolution seems unlikely as many in Buddhist-majority Burma see the Rohingya—whom they call “Bengalis”—as interlopers not deserving of citizenship, despite some tracing their lineage inside Burma’s borders back centuries.
Officials in Bangladesh, where the Rohingya are also not accepted, refer to “Muslim nationals of Burma”.

“If they are Burma nationals they will be repatriated here,” said Burma’s Daw Aye Aye Soe.

Asked what the term “Burma nationals” referred to, she said: “It could be citizens or it could be people from Burma side.”

Daw Aye Aye Soe restated Burma’s position after a previous verification process that only 2,415 of those living in Bangladesh from past exoduses were from Burma.

The new talks will focus on those who have arrived in Bangladesh since the recent bout of violence, she added.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali said that, with the Burma delegation’s visit, the repatriation process was “heading towards the next step, quite evidently.”

While keeping relations with Burma “friendly,” Bangladesh’s government wants the Rohingya out of its border area so tourism can develop there, he told reporters on Thursday.

“We want to see them leave Bangladesh quickly,” Mahmood Ali added.