First Group of Rohingya to Be Repatriated Next Month

By Muktadir Rashid   30 October 2018

DHAKA—Dhaka and Naypyitaw have agreed to repatriate the first group of Rohingya to Myanmar by mid-November, Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary M. Shahidul Haque announced on Tuesday.

“We’re looking forward to starting the repatriation by mid-November. It’s the first batch,” Shahidul Haque told reporters without saying precisely how many Rohingyas would be repatriated in the first group.

The senior Bangladeshi diplomat made the announcement after the third meeting of the Joint Working Group (JWG) to discuss the repatriation of verified Rohingya in Dhaka.

The third meeting of the JWG, a foreign secretary-level forum, was held at the Meghna State Guesthouse in the capital. It was co-chaired by Shahidul Haque and Myint Thu, permanent secretary of Myanmar’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Myint Thu said they had a very friendly and candid meeting and came up with “very concrete results” on the commencement of repatriation.

“We have shown political will, flexibility, and accommodation in order to commence the repatriation at the earliest possible date,” he told reporters.

The Myanmar diplomat said the two sides had streamlined local directives to promote awareness of repatriation among potential returnees.

They discussed the Rohingya issue in detail amid “intensive efforts” to begin repatriation, he said.

JWG members from both sides will visit Rohingya camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar on Wednesday to meet with refugees.

The officials said Bangladesh on Tuesday sought updates on what steps would be taken to facilitate the “safe” and “sustainable return” of Rohingya to their homes in Myanmar.

Bangladeshi Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali on Oct. 15 told reporters in Dhaka that, “We’ve completed the village-based verification of 8,000 Rohingyas to determine who came from which village. We want to make sure they can start living in houses in their own villages.”

The foreign minister said India had built 250 houses for returnees in Myanmar, while China is building 1,000 more.

“The returnees will first stay at reception centers in Myanmar and then will go to their villages.”

Chinese Minister and Party Committee Secretary of the Ministry of Public Security Zhao Kezhi and his Bangladeshi counterpart discussed the Rohingya issue on Friday.

Bangladesh sought China’s assistance in repatriating the Rohingyas.

Speaking at the 73rd UN General Assembly recently, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made three recommendations for solving the Rohingya crisis at its root.

The first was that Myanmar should abolish discriminatory laws, policies and practices against the minority group.

The second was that Myanmar should create an acceptable environment by building trust and guaranteeing protection, rights and a pathway to citizenship for all Rohingyas. If needed, it should create a “safe zone” inside the country to protect all civilians.

The third was that further atrocities against Rohingyas in Myanmar should be prevented by ensuring accountability and justice, particularly in the light of the recommendations of the Fact-Finding Mission of the UN Human Rights Council.

To facilitate repatriation, Foreign Minister Ali has emphasized the need to accelerate efforts to create a “conducive environment” in northern Rakhine State by, among other things, building houses and villages for returnees.

In August this year, Ali and JWG members visited northern Rakhine State and saw the “trail of widespread devastation” suffered by people there, Bangladesh Foreign Ministry officials said.

The foreign minister also visited Shwe Zar village, where around 148 prefabricated houses for returnees are being built with assistance from the government of India.

Bangladesh and Myanmar formed the JWG in December 2017 with an initial goal to start repatriating Rohingya refugees by Jan. 23, 2018.

In May, Myanmar urged Bangladesh to commence the repatriation of 778 Muslims and 444 Hindus whose identities had been verified earlier.