Myanmar Junta: Rohingya Repatriations Planned
By The Irrawaddy 9 February 2023
Myanmar’s junta says it is working to bring back Rohingya refugees who fled Rakhine State for Bangladesh following the military’s supposed counter-insurgency operations in 2017.
Junta leaders, including International Cooperation Minister U Ko Ko Hlaing, Border Affairs Minister Lieutenant General Tun Tun Naung, Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Minister Dr. Thet Thet Khaing and Immigration and Population Minister U Myint Kyaing, visited Maungdaw on the Bangladesh border on Sunday and instructed the authorities to prepare transit camps for repatriation.
One Maungdaw resident said: “I heard they asked departments to make transit camps ready, that they would take back refugees from Bangladesh, that they would make preparations whether [Rohingya] come back or not.”
Some Muslim and Hindu leaders from Maungdaw were summoned to Sittwe to meet junta ministers.
Ko Khin Maung from a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh said whether the Rohingya will return to Maungdaw depends on the junta’s honesty and the refugees have little trust in the repatriation program.
“We do want to return. We are experiencing hardships, after staying for a long time in refugee camps. But the question is if we will be allowed to go back to our homes. It is not OK for us if we will just be held at the Hla Poe Kaung transit camp. The repatriation program will not be successful if the regime is dishonest,” he said.
Rohingya rights activist U Nay San Lwin, co-founder of the Germany-based Free Rohingya Coalition, said the Rohingya would not return unless their rights are guaranteed.
“The news of junta ministers making inspection tours at the border to take back refugees is no longer news to us. We are used to hearing such news. And refugees are not excited anymore. The military moves slightly when there are growing pressures from the international community and China. Nothing more than that,” U Nay San Lwin said.
Recently, the regime sent back over 900 Rohingya detained in Yangon and elsewhere in Myanmar to Maungdaw. They will reportedly be accommodated at transit camps but The Irrawaddy could not independently verify this.
The regime’s repatriation moves, according to some Rohingya activists, are an attempt to salvage its international reputation and help its case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), where Myanmar faces genocide charges.
A brutal military crackdown in the wake of Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacks on police outposts in Rakhine in 2017 forced more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee across the Bangladesh border. In response The Gambia in November 2019 brought a case at the ICJ, accusing Myanmar of committing genocide against the Rohingya.
On November 23, 2017, Bangladesh and the now-ousted National League for Democracy government signed a repatriation agreement but there has been no progress.
Rohingya refugees have been widely referred to as “Bengalis” by Myanmar’s authorities, implying they are interlopers from Bangladesh.