Working group formed to repatriate Rohingyas
Published: 12:29 PM, 21 December 2017 Updated: 09:19 PM, 3 January 2018
Bangladesh and Myanmar on Tuesday formed a joint working group to start repatriation of Rohingyas, the Myanmar nationals who fled persecution in their homeland and have taken refuge in Bangladesh.
The 30-strong joint working group - 15 from each side - was formed in a meeting between the foreign secretaries of the two countries at the state guest house, Padma, in Dhaka, said media, quoting foreign minister AH Mahmood Ali.
He said the next step of repatriation process will “start soon” and expressed satisfaction over the progress.
The two sides signed the terms of reference (TOR) that will allow the working group to undertake all necessary measures to start safe and voluntary return, resettlement and reintegration process of displaced Myanmar residents as envisaged in the “Arrangement on return of displaced persons from Rakhine state.”
Foreign secretary M Shahidul Haque will lead the Bangladesh side in the group.
A delegation, led by Myanmar`s permanent secretary Myint Thu arrived in Dhaka on Monday evening to attend the meeting.
Following a negotiation held on Tuesday, foreign secretary Md Shahidul Haque and his counterpart permanent secretary of the ministry of foreign affairs of Myanmar Myint Thu signed the TOR on behalf of the respective governments.
A nine member Myanmar delegation led by its permanent secretary discussed with Bangladesh delegation and finalised the TOR.
Representatives from relevant ministries and agencies of both countries participated in the meeting.
Earlier, a bilateral document on return of Rohingyas was signed by foreign minister Mahmood Ali and union minister Kyaw Tint Swe at the state counsellor’s office on 23 November in Nay Pyi Taw.
According to the TOR, the JWG will develop physical arrangement for return, which would include mechanism of verification, time schedule, transport and logistics arrangements, reception procedures, communication etc. to commence the repatriation process within the stipulated time frame mentioned in the “Arrangement”.
The JWG will assess the process and report to the respective governments quarterly. The JWG shall involve assistance of the UNHCR and other mandated UN agencies and interested international partners in various stages of repatriation.
The JWG will ensure commencement of repatriation within two months of the signing of the “Arrangement”.
A delegation, led by Myanmar’s Permanent Secretary Myint Thu arrived here on Monday evening to attend the meeting.
The meeting started at 8:45 am at State guesthouse Meghna and ended at around 12:10 pm. Representatives from relevant ministries, including Home and Disaster Management, attended the meeting.
The joint working group was supposed to be in place within three weeks of signing the ‘Arrangement’ on return of Rohingyas.
Experts, however, said the process to repatriate Rohingyas living in Bangladesh is destined to face ‘serious challenges’ as these displaced Muslims are unwilling to return to their home immediately in absence of any future safeguard for them.
A number of Rohingyas who arrived in Bangladesh since 25 August claimed that they are living comfortably in Bangladesh without any fear and willing to stay here.
The United Nations has laid emphasis on the safe repatriation of Rohingyas from Bangladesh to their homeland without any force.
“People should go back, people or refugees should go back to their homes when they feel it’s safe and nobody should be forced to move,” said Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN secretary-general.
“I’m not surprised that most of the Rohingya refugees are unwilling to return immediately; presumably the relative security they enjoy in Bangladesh is one factor in their decision while the absence of any future safeguard against persecution is another,” Prof Ali Riaz, an international analyst, told UNB.
He said the inflow of Rohingyas has not completely stopped, which is also an indication that the situation in Myanmar has not changed significantly.
“The issues at the heart of the present crisis, such as the question of citizenship and equal treatment, have not been discussed, let alone resolved,” added professor Riaz of the politics and government department of Illinois State University, USA.
An estimated 655,000 Rohingya have crossed into Bangladesh fleeing violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State since 25 August, raising the total Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar to 867,000, said the UN migration agency on Sunday.
It said the new arrivals are living in spontaneous settlements increasing the need for humanitarian assistance, including shelter, food, clean water, and sanitation.