The Irrawaddy

Myanmar Agrees to Accelerate Repatriation of Rohingya Despite Challenges

Rohingya refugees walk at Jamtoli camp in the morning in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, January 22, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC13377C84C0

DHAKA — A Myanmar foreign ministry delegation on Thursday in Dhaka said it is accelerating the repatriation process of Myanmar nationals living in Bangladesh but that it needs to promote awareness among its citizens.

“We are working on [the challenges of repatriation].  We need to promote awareness among Myanmar people and we will be providing more information to the counterpart foreign secretary in Dhaka,” said Myint Thu, the permanent secretary of the Myanmar Foreign Affairs Ministry, when asked about the challenges to repatriating Rohingya refugees now living in Bangladesh.

A second Joint Working Group (JWG) meeting with Bangladesh was held in Dhaka. A 15-member delegation from both countries joined the meeting, where the main discussion was starting the physical repatriation of forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals who are currently living in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

The Myanmar delegation head said, “We had a candid discussion on repatriation. We discussed our preparations to date, are continuing to have working group meetings and are setting up a mechanism to receive the refugees.

He added that the two sides were working on the bilateral agreement to begin the process.

When asked about claims that Myanmar has been delaying the repatriation process, the delegation head replied, “That’s what we are here for. We are working on accelerating the process.”

Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque, who is leading the 15-member team from Bangladesh, told reporters that he could not give a specific date as to when the process would begin because “this kind of repatriation is very complex and difficult.”

The JWG is reviewing the progress to date of plans to repatriate some 700,000 Rohingya who fled Myanmar’s Rakhine State largely following Myanmar Army security clearance operations that began in August 2017.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a repatriation agreement on Nov. 23, 2017.

On Jan. 16, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a “physical arrangement” document that would facilitate the return of the Rohingya Muslim refugees to their homeland.

The document stipulated that the process would be completed preferably within two years from its start.

In mid-February, Bangladesh handed over a list of more than 8,032 Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar during a meeting in Dhaka.

Myanmar has so far verified the residency of only 878 Rohingya out of the 8,032 who were on the list from Bangladesh.

The head of the Bangladesh delegation said issues regarding the residency verification process and preparations to address these matters were also discussed.

Shahidul Haque said that a new list would be sent and that both parties agreed to foster the repatriation process.

A Bangladesh official told The Irrawaddy that it was “productive meeting” and that “things were moving in the right direction even though the issue is quite complex.”

Asked whether the delegations discussed the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in the meeting, the official stated that it was discussed and that “there are no ARSA members in our territory.”

“They are convinced of our position and we will work together to identify ARSA members,” the official stated.

Meanwhile, in a statement, the United States Embassy in Dhaka said on Thursday that the US Agency for International Development administrator Mark Green met with Shahidul Haque, the Bangladesh Foreign Secretary, at the latter’s office in Dhaka on Wednesday.

In the meeting, the administrator reiterated that any repatriation or relocation of the Rohingya must be safe, voluntary, dignified, and based on informed consent.

The two discussed the strong partnership between the United States and Bangladesh, including USAID’s long history in the country.