For the first time since the beginning of the Rohingya exodus from Myanmar, a joint working committee of Bangladesh and Myanmar met more than 1,000 refugees in Cox’s Bazar district and discussed the issue of repatriation.
The refugees however are reluctant to go back, fearing attacks similar to the ones they experienced in August 2017. Since orchestrated attacks were launched on the Rohingya, as many as seven hundred thousand refugees fled the Rakhine State of Myanmar to settle in the southeastern district of Bangladesh. More than one million refugees have now arrived in Bangladesh over the last decade.
The Myanmar team, headed by Myint Thu, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the refugees that repatriation may start from the middle of November.
In the first phase, little over 2,000 refugees will be taken back by Myanmar, local refugee coordinators who were present in the meeting told The Hindu. M. Shahidul Haque, the Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh led the Bangladesh side. Relief and Refugee Repatriation Commissioner of Bangladesh, Mohammad Abul Kalam inaugurated the meeting around mid-day on Wednesday.
There were about 30 members in the joint working committee of the two countries in the meeting that took place in one of the largest refugee settlement in Kutupalong in Cox’s Bazar district.
Bangladesh had earlier submitted a list of over 8,000 Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. Myanmar has cleared the names of about 5,000 from the list after “due verification” and decided to take back two thousand of them in November. The process of taking the refugees back will start from the middle of November, Mr. Thu told the refugees.
“We will construct reception centers. The returnees will have to stay there for about two days; after receiving National Verification Card [NVC] you will be taken to model camps where you need stay for five to six months. After completion of this period you will be allowed to rehabilitate to your old land, besides this you will able to enjoy some facilities such as fishing, trading, moving, treatment and even your children can obtain education. We are ready to receive you.” Mr. Thu said.
The Rohingya refugees’ committee questioned the idea of having a NVC instead of regular citizenship and issued a letter to the State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi. The committee of refugees, Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights [ARSPH] placed a list of seven demands to the joint committee, while making it clear that they are “scared of going back to Myanmar,” an ARSPH coordinator told The Hindu .
The demands, written in the form of a letter to Ms. Suu Kyi, notes that Rohingya refugees must be accepted as one of 135 “official ethnic groups.” They have also demanded complete abolition of NVC and restoration of “full citizenship.” Among the other key demands are enactment of right to security in line with international laws, compensations and reparations for the “lives lost and injuries inflicted” and release of all prisoners held “arbitrarily.”
ARSPH has also appealed to remove the names of innocent Rohingyas from the list of terrorists and facilitation of “return [of displaced people] to original houses and land.” It also includes all internally displaced persons [IDPs] living in Sittwe and other townships of Rakhine.
The coordinator of ARPSH said that “the refugees in the IDPs of Myanmar have not been taken back to their house or land as was promised by the Government.”