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Myanmar Doesn’t Want to Repatriate Rohingya, Bangladeshi PM Says

By Muktadir Rashid   10 June 2019

DHAKA—Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said on Sunday that Myanmar does not want the more than 1 million Rohingya refugees currently sheltering in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district to be repatriated.

“Myanmar in no way wants them [Rohingya] back. This is the problem. We are trying to do our part,” the prime minister told a press conference at her official residence, Gonobhaban, in Dhaka when asked about possible solutions to the Rohingya crisis.

Hasina said she had spoken to the leaders of India, China and Japan, who agreed that the Rohingya were Myanmar nationals and should be repatriated.

The prime minister said aid agencies shared the blame for the delay in the repatriation process.

“The problem I am now seeing is the voluntary [aid] organizations who never want Rohingya to be repatriated to their own country. We have signed an agreement to start the repatriation process but there is a movement not to have them repatriated. Who instigated this movement?” she said.

She said the aid agencies do not want the repatriation process to begin because it would put them out of work.

Reacting to the prime minister’s comments on Sunday night, Nay San Lwin, campaign and media relations coordinator for the Free Rohingya Coalition, an umbrella network of Rohingya refugees, said, “A protected return to a protected homeland is the only option for the Rohingya.”

Meanwhile, the Cox’s Bazar-based Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARSPHR) has issued a warning to the UN and ASEAN that there will be no repatriation to Myanmar without consultation with the Rohingya in Bangladesh.

“We want to make it clear to the world that ASEAN and UNHCR do not speak on behalf of the Rohingya refugees. Rohingya refugees can speak for [ourselves]. There will be no repatriation without talking to us,” the Cox’s Bazar-based rights group said in a statement on Saturday.

The rights group issued the warning a day after AFP published a story citing a leaked ASEAN report that suggests, on the one hand, that Myanmar will only take back a total of 500,000 out of the 1 million-plus Rohingya refugees over a period of two years, while on the other hand glossing over the problems posed by an ongoing insurgency in Rakhine State and failing to mention the persecuted ethnic minority by name.

The leaked report, penned by the Southeast Asian bloc’s Emergency Response and Assessment Team (Asean-ERAT) and seen by AFP, is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

In the statement, ARSPHR said, “The ASEAN report also does not use our ethnic name: Rohingya. Many ASEAN countries like Malaysia and Indonesia visit the camp to take a photo with us and call us Rohingya to our face but now they refuse to give us dignity. Why is [the] ASEAN organization not using our ethnic name?’

“The UN estimated 725,000 Rohingya fled violence and persecution in Myanmar in 2017 and 2018. So we want to ask what ASEAN and Myanmar will do about the other 500,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh?” the statement reads.

“Just like the recent extension of the Myanmar, UNDP and UNHCR secret MOU [memorandum of understanding on repatriation], Rohingya refugee leaders are not being consulted about a decision that directly affects our human rights. Why is it so difficult for ASEAN and the UN to consult us and respect our human rights and dignity?” it reads.

On May 28, the UN Refugee Agency and the UNDP signed the 1-year MOU extension with Myanmar for one year. The deal is aimed at creating conducive conditions for voluntary and sustainable repatriation of the Rohingya from Bangladesh.  The original MOU was signed in Naypyitaw on June 6, 2018.

The Rohingya rights group stated that “the ASEAN report congratulates Myanmar [for increasing the number of] security forces in Rakhine State. Rohingya [have] been victims of genocide by Myanmar security forces for decades. What will ASEAN and Myanmar do to stop these forces from continuing the genocide against Rohingya when we return home?”

It continues: “We know the answer to all of these … questions. ASEAN and the UN view [the] Rohingya as a crisis and problem. They do not view us as … human being[s] with rights and dignity.”

Over 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since Aug. 25, 2017. Some 300,000 others fled earlier waves of violence in Myanmar, where Rohingya are denied citizenship under a 1982 law.

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