China Facilitates Informal Meeting at UN to Expedite Refugee Repatriation Process

By The Irrawaddy 1 October 2018

YANGON—During a China-facilitated informal meeting with the United Nations, Myanmar and Bangladesh, plans were made for a joint working group meeting which is to have a focus on creating a roadmap and timetable for the repatriation of the Rohingya people and to implement repatriation of the first batch of refugees as soon as possible.

The agreement was one of three made during the trilateral meeting at the UN headquarters in New York on Thursday. The meeting was attended by the Minister for the Office of the Myanmar State Counselor U Kyaw Tint Swe, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was also present, according to a statement about the meeting released by China’s ministry of foreign affairs.

Nearly 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh since August last year following clearance operations by Myanmar security forces in the wake of Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army’s serial attacks on police outposts in northern Rakhine State. The Myanmar government denounced the group as a terrorist organization.

Myanmar and Bangladesh signed three bilateral agreements on the repatriation. Myanmar President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay said last month that more than 3,000 Rohingya would be repatriated to Myanmar soon. It would be the first batch under the bilateral repatriation program.

During the meeting, the Bangladeshi side said it is prepared to repatriate the first group of displaced persons who fled from Myanmar’s Rakhine State into Bangladesh, while the Myanmar side said it is prepared to receive them. However, neither side said when it would happen.

China has encouraged both Myanmar and Bangladesh to resolve the issue properly. In June, the Chinese foreign minister had an informal meeting with the two ministers in Beijing.

Wang Yi said, according to the statement, the Chinese side is not in support of approaches that tend to complicate, worsen, or internationalize the Rakhine issue.

“The priority is to achieve the first repatriation of the people who fled from Rakhine State in Myanmar to Bangladesh. The Chinese side, as a friendly neighboring country of Myanmar and Bangladesh, is willing to continue setting up platforms for communication and consultations between Myanmar and Bangladesh, and continue providing humanitarian aid for refugees from Rakhine State for the return to their homeland,” he said.

China has close relations with Myanmar, and backs what Myanmar officials called a legitimate counter-insurgency operation in Rakhine. Beijing has helped to block a resolution on the crisis at the UN Security Council. The middle kingdom is the largest foreign investor in Myanmar, which is part of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative.  China has also committed to $31bn worth of projects in Bangladesh, making it the second-biggest recipient of money in south Asia behind Pakistan. They include roads, railways, coal power plants and water treatment facilities.