NatStrat
Print Share

Are the Rohingya refugees finally going back?

  • Geopolitics
  • 11 Months ago
  • 4 min read
Rohingyas refugees repatriation Bangladesh Myanmar

© NatStrat

Haroon Habib
Haroon Habib - Bangladeshi Freedom Fighter, Writer and Journalist

A somewhat serious move is now underway to repatriate Rohingya refugees to their homeland in Rakhine State, from where the ethnic minority was brutally evicted by Myanmar authorities in 2017. Since then, Bangladesh has hosted over 1.1 million refugees in Cox's Bazar and other places.

On 5th May 2023, a delegation of 20 Rohingyas led by Bangladesh officials, visited Maungdaw town to see if the environment and conditions in Rakhine State is favourable for repatriation. The visit was the first such occasion for the Rohingyas to see their land from where they were forced to flee as their homes were torched and destroyed in a bid to cleanse the ethnic minority. The delegation visited 15 villages and other infrastructures built for the would-be resettlement. The tour also took them to a transit camp in Maungdaw where the refugees would be housed initially.

The visit was well covered by the Bangladesh media. It has raised a new ray of hope as Myanmar’s generals, who have so far shown no mood to take the Rohingyas back, now seem willing under a mediation plan chalked out by China.

Beijing’s role was explained by the Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh, Mr Yao Wen, who said on May 6 that his country has been “unswervingly mediating” between Bangladesh and Myanmar to promote the repatriation of the Rohingyas to their homeland.

Understandably, Dhaka's official mood is supportive of the plan as the refugees have been languishing in camps for six years, and not only taxing Bangladesh economically but also causing social, cultural and security threats. Bangladesh, therefore, wants to go back to lessen its burden and anxiety.

Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, who led the delegation, praised the Myanmar authorities, stating:  "We have seen the goodwill and willingness in Myanmar to facilitate repatriation. We are hoping that it [repatriation] will be sustainable." However, the high official admitted that the Rohingyas, which has been a long-standing issue, may not be solved overnight. The planned repatriation, according to Mr Rahman, is likely to start by the end of May.

However, the official mood was not reflected by the Rohingyas. Their representatives expressed disappointment: "We have not found our villages. Everything has changed. The areas are now full of camps," said Abu Sufian, a member of the delegation. Rohingya leaders including Mohammad Selim, also a delegation member, said Rohingyas would not return until they were granted citizenship. The immediate reactions by Rohingyas are negative. But Myanmar officials said their demands would be met in phases.

As per the accord, some Rohingyas will be relocated to the place of their origin, while others to a place nearby. It is learnt that a Myanmar team will soon visit Cox’s Bazar to build confidence among the Rohingyas and make them feel assured.

There are varying perceptions over repatriation, with Dhaka and Naypyidaw in agreement to begin under the Chinese brokered plan. While most Rohingyas seemed eager to end their refugee lives, they all want their destroyed homes back, and citizenships and security guaranteed. But a section of the Rohingya leaders said: “We don't want to live in camps in our country.”

The Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh due to decades-long institutionalized discrimination, statelessness, and targeted brutality. After lengthy negotiations, Dhaka and Naypyidaw signed an agreement years ago for their return. The first batch of refugees was to be repatriated by 15 November 2018 but that did not happen. In August 2019, another attempt was made by China to send the Rohingyas back but the refugees were reluctant due to their citizenship and security. After a long pause in the repatriation process, a Myanmar delegation visited Bangladesh to start the verification process in person. According to the RRRC, Bangladesh has listed 882,000 Rohingya since the first major influx in August 2017 but the Myanmar authorities recognised only 68,000.

The Myanmar government has made smaller houses in two newly-built model villages for the returnees. However, given the size of the Rohingya families, these houses are too small. Besides, Rohingyas would have to make food arrangements on their own while Myanmar will supply furnaces and firewood for a month. children will be permitted to enrol in a local school and receive medical care at adjacent clinics.

China, which has maintained strategic ties with the internationally isolated junta, now seems serious in mediating between Bangladesh and Myanmar on the Rohingya issue. Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang has reiterated Beijing's offer to mediate in “improving” bilateral ties. This might be seen as Beijing’s attempt to emerge as an effective negotiator in conflicts after successful mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Qin, who met Myanmar’s top leadership since the military coup over two years ago, also pledged to support the country in “exploring” a development path with “Myanmar characteristics”. He told General Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyidaw that Beijing was also ready to “expand” ties between China, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

 According to a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement, Qin told the junta general: “China supports Myanmar improving its relations with Bangladesh, with related issues to be resolved through consultation, adding that China is willing to work with the two countries to expand China-Myanmar-Bangladesh pragmatic cooperation.”

In a recent remark, Chinese ambassador in Dhaka, Mr Wen, also insisted:  Bangladesh and China “should deepen the strategic partnership” for cooperation and explore new growth points. China and Bangladesh should continue to support each other on issues of core interests, and say “no” to external interference with one voice.”

The initial Western response towards the plight of the Rohingyas as well as their seriousness to make the Myanmar generals accountable for ‘genocide’ have diminished. No concrete steps, except for sanctions on a few generals, are in sight now.

While the International Criminal Court (ICC) indictment of Russian President Vladimir Putin, including quick issuance of his arrest warrant over alleged Ukraine genocide was too swift, the progress of the Rohingya genocide case filed by Gambia seems too delayed! Gambia, with the backing of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), filed the case in November 2019 accusing the Myanmar authorities of atrocities against the Rohingyas in Rakhine State.

The West’s inaction has probably tempted the Chinese envoy to conclude: “A local friend once told me sincerely that many people provide lip-services, but only China is actually doing practical things to proceed with the repatriation.”

However, some quarters try to explain that the Chinese-brokered move might have begun in the background of global pressure on Myanmar. Ever since the latest military coup, Myanmar has been in a major civil war spreading across the nation. The junta does not effectively control all parts of the country as rebels intensify their efforts to resist the military regime. They conclude that the changed mindset of the military leadership could thus be suspected as their effort to ease global pressure, instead of really taking all the Rohingyas back.

Also, without Myanmar ensuring a suitable environment for the Rohingyas, it is not practical to believe that the refugees will voluntarily agree to return to the bloody hostility they once experienced. However, even if the possibility of major progress in the ongoing repatriation plan still looks slim, it is evident that some kind of repatriation may take place this time.

(Exclusive to NatStrat)


     

Related Articles

Sanjay Kumar Pandey

The Russia-Ukraine War: Impact on the Global South
Geopolitics Apr 15, 2024

The Russia-Ukraine War: Impact on the Global South

Pankaj Saran

Russia-Ukraine War: Takeaways for India
Geopolitics Apr 15, 2024

Russia-Ukraine War: Takeaways for India

Krishnan Srinivasan

Ukraine War: An Update
Geopolitics Apr 15, 2024

Ukraine War: An Update

Deepika Saraswat

Iran: Part of an ‘Axis’ or a Middle Power in (Eur)Asia
Geopolitics Apr 04, 2024

Iran: Part of an ‘Axis’ or a Middle Power in (Eur)Asia

Mykhailo Samus

2024: The Last Chance for Ukraine?
Geopolitics Apr 15, 2024

2024: The Last Chance for Ukraine?

Andrey Kortunov

Preparing for the Worst, Working for the Best
Geopolitics Apr 15, 2024

Preparing for the Worst, Working for the Best