Monday, May 29, 2023

Will the Myanmar-Bangladesh pilot return project ensure the Rohingya repatriation?

Harunur Rasid is a London-based Bangladeshi expatriate who is a Bangladesh and Myanmar affairs observer, analyst, and researcher.

Even though the repatriation of Rohingyas has made no substantial progress in the last five years, a delegation of Rohingya refugees traveled to Myanmar on Friday to see new facilities erected in preparation for the resurrection of the long-stalled plan. Officials have expressed optimism that repatriations will resume later this month.

Over one million Rohingya are currently residing in the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh, and the vast majority of them fled a 2017 military offensive in Myanmar that is currently under investigation by the United Nations for genocide. Repatriation of Rohingya refugees is currently the main concern for Bangladesh and there have been difficulties with overpopulation, instability, and violence in the refugee camps.

When it comes to helping the Rohingya, Bangladesh has already gone above and above. Bangladesh has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention. As a result, Bangladesh is not required by law to house any refugees on the territory of the country. However, for humanitarian reasons, Bangladesh has provided Rohingyas with shelter.

Previous futile attempts to repatriate the refugees

In January 2018, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed the Physical Arrangement Agreement. In accordance with its terms, Myanmar was supposed to make all necessary preparations for their return, and from the date the repatriation begins, they would finish it within two years. Since then, unfortunately, little progress has been made, and the United Nations has repeatedly warned that conditions are not suitable for their repatriation.

Following the widespread exodus of Rohingya from Myanmar’s Rakhine state to Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar in 2017, two unsuccessful repatriation attempts were made in 2018 and 2019, respectively. In both instances, the Rohingya refused to return to their homeland out of fear of further persecution and a hostile resettlement environment. With the military takeover of Myanmar in 2021, the junta liable for mass murders and genocide against the Rohingya was consolidating its power, uninterested in resolving the crisis despite Bangladesh and other allies’ efforts and initiatives.

Why is the repatriation stalling?

The primary causes of the impasse in the repatriation process are Myanmar’s reluctance, the pandemic, and the military coup in Myanmar. In June of last year, the Rohingya staged a massive demonstration and expressed their desire to return home. The primary obstacle lies in figuring out how they are going to return.

The growing threats

In order to establish 34 settlements in the Ukhia and Teknaf region, Bangladesh had to endure enormous ecological damage. There are now over 12 million Rohingya residing there. Every year, there are 35 thousand births. Once-forested land covering 4,500 acres has been completely destroyed. In addition, funding for Rohingya refugees in 2022 has decreased substantially compared to the two previous years, which has alarmed humanitarian organizations and the Bangladeshi government.

The situation in the Rohingya refugee settlements is deteriorating because Western countries have shifted their focus to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Multiple global crises, such as the Covid pandemic, the Afghanistan crisis, and lately the Russia-Ukraine conflict, have exacerbated and exacerbated the condition. In 2022, only 43% of the required amount of USD 881 million under the Joint Response Plan has been funded, according to reports. In 2021, 72 percent of the required USD 943 million was disbursed.

The sudden appearance of “pilot project” by Junta government

On Friday, May 5, 2023, approximately 20 Rohingyas and seven Bangladeshi officials, including a border patrol officer, were sent to visit the two model villages constructed for the pilot return project. “They will see the various facilities created for the purpose of repatriation to Myanmar,” said Deputy Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, Mohammed Khalid Hossain.

According to Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, the new facilities for returning refugees include a market, hospital, and reception center.

Officials anticipate that the repatriations will commence later this month, prior to the annual monsoon season. Previously, a list of more than 880,000 Rohingyas was sent to Myanmar, where the identities of approximately 70,000 were verified by them. As previously stated, approximately 1,100 individuals were identified in the initial phase as a pilot initiative for their return. Later, Myanmar objected to the inclusion of 429 individuals on the list.

What is the impact of the pilot project?

How beneficial would the pilot repatriation be for Bangladesh and the Rohingya people? The answer could be positive. The program may be viewed as the beginning of a long-overdue repatriation, which may inspire greater repatriation in the future.  Bangladesh has a severe dilemma regarding how to handle this refugee crisis for years to come, including questions of national security, funding, administration, and the treatment of refugees and host populations. Due to the Ukraine conflict, the Rohingya humanitarian crisis has lost its urgency to the international community already.

The pilot repatriation project offered by Myanmar may pave the way for the early repatriation of 1.1 million Rohingya refugees.

We can consider the Rohingya pilot project as the beginning of the long-overdue repatriation, which might inspire more people to return Myanmar from Bangladesh in the future. Rohingyas should go back to their homeland Myanmar now as the whole population cannot spend years in another country in refuge from another situation. Rohingyas have the right to go back to their own nation, their own territory, and their own homes — where they can exercise all of their civil rights to strive toward constructing a better life and future for themselves and their offspring. The Rohingya cannot consistently receive food, shelter, and medical care due to our limited economic capabilities. It is important to note that aid for the Rohingya is decreasing daily. The current Ukraine conflict has the entire world on edge. Although the world community has lost sight of the Rohingya humanitarian issue as a result of the war in Ukraine. Bangladesh’s government and the majority of its citizens share the Rohingya’s humanitarian concerns. We cannot, however, provide refuge for this enormous population for very long. Although our nation is small, it has a sizable population. In the Rohingya camps, extortion, murder, rape, and the sale of arms have all been documented. Internal anarchy is growing.  The decision to provide asylum to the Rohingya was an act of humanitarianism. The international community now has the duty to return them. The discussion of a “conducive environment” is politically biased. The Junta is ensuring their security when it repatriates them. In a nutshell, the repatriation plan will at least somewhat lessen Bangladesh’s burden. The experimental project will improve relations between Bangladesh and Myanmar. The international community shouldn’t oppose it; instead, they should go forward and actively participate in ensuring the prompt return of the remaining refugees. Myanmar must ensure that the return of Rohingya Muslims is continuous, dignified, and sustainable.Myanmar needs to have goodwill in order to interact favourably with Bangladesh. The Rohingya situation needs to be resolved successfully and permanently, according to the entire globe. For the Rohingya people to return from Bangladesh to Myanmar with safety and dignity, a solution to the Rohingya problem is necessary.

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