Myanmar, Bangladesh, China to Form Joint Working Group on Rohingya Repatriation

By Nan Lwin 26 September 2019

YANGON—Myanmar, Bangladesh and China on Monday agreed to establish a tripartite working group mechanism to evaluate the Rohingya repatriation process on the ground, according to media reports.

The formation of the group was part of a three-point consensus agreed at an informal trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. Arranged by China, the meeting focused on ways to move the Rohingya repatriation process forward.

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Myanmar Union Minister for the State Counselor’s Office U Kyaw Tint Swe, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen participated in the meeting, which was witnessed by Christine Schraner Burgener, the UN secretary-general’s special envoy on Myanmar.

According to China’s state-owned Xinhua news agency, the three points of consensus were: the strong will and important political consensus of the three parties to realize the repatriation as soon as possible, with both Myanmar and Bangladesh agreeing that the issue cannot be postponed any longer and should be resolved at an early date; the agreement to establish a China-Myanmar-Bangladesh Joint Working Group mechanism; and that development is fundamental to resolving the Rakhine issue.

After the meeting, AK Abdul Momen told the media that the first meeting of the China-Myanmar-Bangladesh Joint Working Group was expected to be held in October.

Dr. Momen said Myanmar agreed to take the Rohingya back as soon as possible.

As of Thursday, the Myanmar State Counselor’s Office had yet to make an official statement regarding the meeting.

More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh since August 2017 to escape military operations that the UN has called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” The Myanmar military denies these allegations, insisting the crackdown was a response to coordinated attacks on security posts in Rakhine State by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).

Despite Myanmar and Bangladesh having signed a repatriation agreement in November 2017, implementation has failed repeatedly and both sides blame the other for the delay. Citing resistance to repatriation from the Rohingya who fear for their safety, rights groups have also warned that without legal protections such as citizenship, Rohingya refugees will continue to face persecution in Myanmar.

Last year, Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the UN’s development (UNDP) and refugee (UNHCR) agencies to help with the voluntary return and reintegration of displaced Rohingya.

Two attempts at Rohingya repatriation between the two countries have failed, as Rohingya are unwilling to go back due to concerns over security and the lack of a guarantee of citizenship status.

According to Xinhua, the three sides agreed to strengthen tripartite cooperation and help boost employment and improve people’s livelihoods in Rakhine State and the Myanmar-Bangladesh border areas.

With Chinese mediation, Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed an earlier four-point consensus in June 2018. At that time, China agreed to assist in the economic development of Rakhine State, as the Myanmar government believes economic development will bring stability to the state.

As a part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China and Myanmar signed a framework agreement in November to implement the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone, which will give China access to the India Ocean.

Wang said that since last year, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh have held three informal foreign ministers’ meetings to discuss the repatriation process, with each meeting having made progress and given all sides a chance to discuss their concerns.

He said all parties should further strengthen communication and consultation and push for substantive progress on the repatriation issue as soon as possible, Chinese media said.

Since 2017, China has officially played a mediation role between Myanmar and Bangladesh. China endorsed a three-point plan calling for an end to the conflict in Rakhine and a resolution to the repatriation process after Wang visited both countries in November 2017.

Beijing continues to offer strong support to Myanmar, despite accusations that the treatment of the Rohingya amounts to genocide and war crimes.

Last year, China voted against the UN Human Rights Council’s move to establish a body to investigate the genocide claims. Wang said at the time that the Rohingya issue should not be “complicated,” “expanded” or “internationalized”, describing it as an issue between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

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