Door Still Open to Rohingya Repatriation, Gov’t Says

By Nyein Nyein 15 November 2018

CHIANG MAI, Thailand—Myanmar said the repatriation process is still open for displaced Rohingya, although no one opted to return from refugee camps in Bangladesh on Thursday.

This is the second failure of the repatriation effort; back in January, not one of the some 700,000 refugees in Bangladeshi camps was repatriated, though the government said Myanmar made the necessary preparations for the repatriation of displaced people.

After 10 months, at the end of October, Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed to repatriate Rohingya on a voluntary basis this week, a year after they left their homes following military clearance operations in response to attacks on security posts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in August last year.

A total of 2,261 people from 425 households were approved for repatriation at the meeting of the Joint Working Group of Myanmar and Bangladesh led by officials from both Foreign Affairs ministries in October.

Myanmar has prepared to accept 150 people per day at the repatriation center in Maungdaw Township, northern Rakhine State. On Thursday afternoon, the minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, Dr. Win Myat Aye, accompanied by his deputy U Soe Aung; the minister of Immigration and Population U Thein Swe, and Rakhine State Chief Minister U Nyi Pu, were waiting for refugees at the Taungpyo Letwei repatriation center, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

MOFA’s permanent secretary U Myint Thu held a press conference regarding the repatriation situation on Thursday afternoon in Naypyitaw.

Even though no one has been repatriated yet, he said, “Myanmar has opened the process and will accept anyone who is ready to come back voluntarily. Myanmar will keep collaborating with neighboring Bangladesh for the voluntary, safe and dignified return of the displaced.”

U Myint Thu, who is also a chair of the Joint Working Group of Myanmar and Bangladesh for the refugee repatriations, said collaboration would continue as the governments’ JWG has a mechanism for the repatriation process.

China, India, Japan and ASEAN countries have been assisting the repatriation and rehabilitation process for Rohingya and more than 1,000 houses have been built.

Hundreds of Rohingya protested at Unchiprang camp in Teknaf, in Bangladesh, from where the first batch of the Rohingya families were to repatriate, on Thursday. They demanded justice and a guarantee of security and citizenship status.

Myanmar has made it clear that everyone has to go through the verification process as a standard procedure and those who can present proper documentation would be provided national verification cards and then go through the citizenship verification process.

“It is the will of those people to come back. If they come back and go through the process, we will make sure that their citizenship verification process would take less than five months,” U Myint Thu told the reporters.

Human Rights Watch and UNHCR expressed concerns that Myanmar is not yet ready for the refugee repatriation.

“When they are saying that we are not yet ready, we wonder what standard they are using. We have been ready since January. We have arranged for villagers to be able to return to their villages once they arrive at the repatriation centers,” U Myint Thu said.

He said they have established three categories of people among those who crossed the border into Bangladesh. They are: those who want to resettle in third countries; those who took part in the ARSA attacks against the security forces, either voluntarily or forced by ARSA; and those who want to return voluntarily as they have relatives and businesses in Rakhine State.

He said the first two groups would definitely not want to come back to Myanmar. But the UNHCR should focus on the latter group of people “so that the repatriation process would be smooth,” he said. If only those who do not want to return are interviewed then there would be no one to return to Myanmar.

The UNHCR in Bangladesh was asked by Bangladesh authorities to make sure whether the short-listed returnees really want to go back.

Dr. Win Myat Aye, who met with reporters in Sittwe on Thursday evening, also urged the Bangladesh authorities and UN agencies to collaborate as per the agreement between them.

Htet Naing Zaw in Naypyitaw contributed to this report.