DHAKA – The Chinese-backed pilot project to repatriate Rohingya refugees to Rakhine State from Bangladesh gained momentum this week after diplomatic visits between China and Bangladesh.
But Rohingya leaders said any repatriation must guarantee equal human rights in Myanmar and return them to their land.
Bangladesh’s foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen visited Kunming to meet representatives from China and Myanmar’s junta on Tuesday and China’s special envoy for Asian affairs, Deng Xijun, visited Dhaka on April 6.
“Repatriation is our main objective,” Bangladeshi Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told The Irrawaddy on Thursday. “But we have not seen any result so far. So what can we do? We are keeping our fingers crossed.”
He said in two previous attempts, Rohingya were taken to the border but no one from Myanmar appeared.
“China encouraged us but we only found a horse egg,” he said. “Western countries are not keen on it, saying the environment in Rakhine is troublesome. Democracy is yet to be established.”
The minister said Bangladesh witnessed previous repatriations between the 1970s and 90s under military rule, saying returns might reduce the “venom of hatred”.
A retired major general, Shahidul Haque, who was Bangladesh’s embassy defense attache in Myanmar, told The Irrawaddy that over 100,00 Rohingya who were driven from Sittwe in 2012 have yet to return to their homes.
But he said recent Chinese intervention was a new factor.
Mg Mg Tein, a Rohingya community leader in Cox’s Bazar, said the initiative would be another cage if people could not return to their land and have their rights guaranteed.
He said the project was just an attempt for Myanmar’s regime to reduce pressure ahead of next month’s International Court of Justice hearing in The Hague.
In July 2022, the court rejected Myanmar’s objections to the case brought by The Gambia and asked it to file a reply by April 24.
This month it gave Myanmar’s regime a month’s reprieve and scheduled the next hearing for May 24.
Human Rights Watch on March 31 called on Bangladesh to suspend repatriations, saying the Rohingya would be put in danger.
Myanmar’s junta in March interviewed around 480 Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar for the repatriation project.
The New York-based rights group said the Rohingyas were deceived or coerced by Bangladeshi administrators into meeting the junta delegation.
Possible resettlement to a third country was mentioned ahead of the interviews and Rohingya did not want to return to military-run Myanmar, the group said.
The United Nations refugees agency, the UNHCR, in March said: “Conditions in Rakhine State are currently not conducive to the sustainable return of Rohingya refugees”, adding that no refugee should be forced to return.