NAYPYITAW—The Myanmar government’s spokesperson U Zaw Htay has accused international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) of deliberately discouraging refugees in Bangladesh from returning to Myanmar due to their own business interests.
Speaking at the government’s press conference on Friday, U Zaw Htay, also director-general of the President’s Office, said that INGOs share the blame for refugees’ reluctance to come back to Myanmar.
“There are a lot of food imports and supplies. There is a big market there. INGOs do not want [refugees] to go back to Myanmar so that they can implement projects for a long time—health care, children, women, and so on. My point is that, as it is a really big business, INGOs are telling the refugees not to go back. That is where the problem exists,” said U Zaw Htay.
NGOs and INGOs became institutionalized after Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar in 2008, thereby paving the way for thriving NGO businesses. Normally, the victims receive only around 30 percent of the contributions made by donors, claimed U Zaw Htay.
People have different views on the role of NGOs and INGOs in the repatriation of refugees. NGOs and INGOs also have different views about repatriation, said executive director of Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security, U Min Zaw Oo.
“Some human rights NGOs say [refugees] should not go back to Myanmar without a guarantee that they will have their human rights and citizenship. Some said that they should not go back until they are allowed to travel freely across the country. There are different views among NGOs,” said U Min Zaw Oo.
He declined to comment on the financial matters of NGOs or their business interests, but claimed that some of the refugees might have considered coming back to Myanmar.
Lower House lawmaker U Pe Than of the Arakan National Party shared the same view as U Zaw Htay, saying that Rakhine State has experienced growing instability over the past ten years since INGOs and NGOs came to operate there.
“Not even half of the money given by donors reaches the people. They just make up invoices and documentary photos to convince the donors. They receive benefits from one project after another. And they have more opportunities regarding the Bengali issue because there are many international donors who want to support them,” said the lawmaker, using the government’s term for the Rohingya, implying they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
He said there are also other reasons that make Rohingya refugees reluctant to come back to Myanmar.
“They want to take advantage of the pressures from the international community. There are ten demands including their recognition as Rohingya and granting of their citizenship. They said they would not return unless those demands are fulfilled. And ARSA (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) has also threatened them,” said U Pe Than.
Myanmar’s government has said that it has been ready for refugee repatriation since Jan. 23 this year but that the Bangladeshi government has not been able to fulfill its part of their bilateral agreement with Myanmar.
The Myanmar government has also signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on the repatriation of refugees.
The government has put off the repatriation plan until January as no one has opted to return, said U Zaw Htay.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.