Worldwide pressure is seemingly mounting on Myanmar to address the repatriation of Rohingya refugees after the newly elected Suu Kyi administration assumed power for a second consecutive term.
Sidelining the country’s nearly two million Rohingya at home and abroad, the Buddhist-majority Southeast Asian country of more than 54 million people held national polls on Nov. 8.
Nobel Peace Laureate and Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party once again ascended to power after its victory in the 2015 elections.
The polls, however, received a huge amount of criticism across the globe for disenfranchising nearly 2.8 million ethnic minorities including 600,000 Rohingya still in Myanmar and over one million in Bangladesh, raising concerns over whether Rohingya can be peacefully repatriated to their home country.
Amid the prevailing situation, Bangladesh, the host country of more than 1.1 million Rohingya, has been planning to step up pressure on Myanmar since the very beginning of the Suu Kyi government’s second term.
Dhaka also wishes to engage Beijing, the main ally of Naypyidaw, in the repatriation process so that during the four-year-long second term of Suu Kyi, Bangladesh can achieve a concrete goal.
Timeframe for repatriation
Bangladesh’s top diplomat even declared that he will ask the newly elected government in Myanmar for a specific timeframe for the sustainable repatriation of Rohingya to their homeland in Rakhine state, formerly known as Arakan province.
“We will ask them to give us a date of commencing Rohingya repatriation […] We [Bangladesh] are ready to send them back,” Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told local media Tuesday following a public function in the capital Dhaka.
Underling the assurance to Bangladesh by the global community to put pressure on Myanmar’s new administration, Momen added: “Our friends like China, Japan, the European Union and the United Kingdom assured us that they would help us so that Myanmar takes the initiative in this regard,” he added, referring to Rohingya repatriation.
Bangladesh has already been engaged in a tripartite mechanism with China and Myanmar to speed up the repatriation issue.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency late Wednesday, Momen added that Bangladesh was optimistic about starting the sustainable repatriation of Rohingya.
“We are ready to send the displaced people of Myanmar back to their country. We believe, as Myanmar agreed to take them back, ensuring their safety and security, that the new government will honor its commitment,” he said.
Seeking an initiative from the international community, he said: “It is high time for the international leadership to take a proactive initiative for their [Rohingya] safe, secure and dignified return.”
Underlining the sustainable repatriation of Rohingya as crucial for the peace and stability of the entire region, Momen added: “Otherwise, if repatriation is delayed, it may create pockets of radicalism that may create uncertainty in the region, frustrating hopes for a better future for the region.”
He also warned that a lingering Rohingya repatriation may result in an adverse impact on overall regional investments.
“All the investments in the region may face uncertainty,” he said.
Repatriation the only solution
Pointing to subhuman living conditions in the crammed makeshift settlements in Bangladesh’s southern district of Cox’s Bazar, lack of education and growing up new generations as stateless people, a Rohingya community leader told Anadolu Agency that peaceful and dignified repatriation to homeland is the only solution to the crisis.
“Without immediate repatriation with citizenship rights and safety, we have no hope here in Bangladesh,” Rahmat Karim, a Rohingya community leader in Cox’s Bazar camp told Anadolu Agency.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency Kyaw Win, Executive Director of UK-based Rohingya rights defender Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN), addressed the peaceful and dignified repatriation of Rohingya as one of the top priority issues for them.
“But before repatriation we must ensure two factors — the Rohingya must be allowed to return to their original places of birth from where they were forced to flee and their citizenship rights must be restored.”
The rights network also outlined a series of demands from the upcoming government of Myanmar in order to ensure a more democratic and humane future for the country.
“The process of Rohingya repatriation must be sped up while ensuring the dignity and rights of the population. In order to do so, Rohingya politicians and leaders in Burma must be involved in the process,” BHRN said in statement on Wednesday.
Acting president of European Rohingya Council Dr. Ambia Perveen, however, told Anadolu Agency: “We hope that the Bangladesh government will hold dialogue with Myanmar and appoint some new visionary young ministers to solve the Rohingya reparation issue”.
“The dialogues should be transparent with the participation of Rohingya representatives,” she added.
Parveen also demanded for a prior visit to the Rakhine state to assess the real condition there by Rohingya for a “conducive and meaningful repatriation”.
Repatriation without transit camps
A global Rohingya rights defenders’ platform, the Arakan Rohingya Union, in a report submitted to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation urged the newly elected government of Myanmar to “immediately start repatriation of the forcefully displaced Rohingya from camps in Bangladesh directly to their original homes in Arakan with no transit camps.”
The report, issued Sunday, also recommended permanently stopping the controversial National Verification Card process of the Myanmar government and to “reinstate the National Registration Certificates and White Cards of the Rohingya ethnic minority.”
The persecuted Rohingya have rejected the card, terming it a “genocide card” and a trick of the Myanmar government to establish Rohingya as illegal Bengali.
The platform, representing 61 Rohingya organizations worldwide, also recommended dismantling the internally displaced people camps in Arakan and resetting the IDPs in the original locations on their property.
It is estimated that nearly 120,000 Rohingya have been living in the camps like in open prisons without basic rights of movement and education.
The letter also recommended stopping the Burmese military from “indiscriminately shelling the villages in Buddhist Rakhine and Rohingya areas in Arakan, causing death, destruction and displacement of the civilian population.”
According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017, pushing the number of persecuted people in Bangladesh above 1.2 million.
Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).
More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the OIDA report, entitled Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience.
As many as 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police and over 115,000 Rohingya homes burned down, while 113,000 others were vandalized, it added.