POST TIME: 2 February, 2018 00:00 00 AM
Rohingya repatriation needs a sustainable solution
The attitude of the Myanmar government and its military towards Rohingya is yet to change and the condition of the Rakhine is still far from ideal

Rohingya repatriation needs a 
sustainable solution

Bangladesh eagerly wants the solution for the Rohingya refugee crisis. Considering the humanitarian ground decided to give shelter to the helpless ethnic Rohingya Muslims in some designated camps. In November last year between the two neighbouring countries, an agreement was signed to repatriate the Rohingya refugees. The repatriation process missed its supposed deadline twice.  Now the question remains whether repatriation is a sustainable solution for the prolonged Rohingya crisis Bangladesh is facing since 1978.

Bangladesh apparently seems to have no concern whether the safety of the refugees is ensured, their security, shelter, food and citizenships though it should be the main concern for a sustainable solution.  But the solution does not lie in repatriation only.

In 1978 and 1992 Bangladesh had signed Repatriation Agreements with Myanmar too and till 2008 over 423,000 refugees were repatriated to Myanmar but the repatriation brought no change in the attitude of Myanmar government and military towards Rohingya people.

Moreover, still they are fleeing to Bangladesh. As per report of the IOM Needs and Population Monitoring (NPM) Baseline survey from December 27, 2017 to January 21, 2018 more than 22,500 Rohingyas have entered Bangladesh.

The attitude of the Myanmar government and its military towards Rohingya is yet to be changed and the condition of the Rakhine is still far from an improved state. The Rohingyas who are still coming said the Rakhine extremists and other vigilantes are continuing atrocities on them.

As of today, in Rakhine State there are restrictions on access for aid agencies, the media and other independent observers. There is still a degree of fear and uncertainty among the refugees regarding their return home. The earlier repatriations did not bring any solution of the crisis.

So far Myanmar is yet to make sure that families of the refugees in Bangladesh, if returned to Rakhine in their village, would get shelter, food, water and clothes.

Moreover, Myanmar government still did not amend The Citizenship Law of 1982 that denied the right of citizenship of the Muslim ethnic minority of the Rakhine State in Myanmar. Their freedom of movement is yet to be restored.

The refugees are also unwilling to return in Rakhine as discrimination between Myanmarese and Rohingyas is unabated, they are also demanding to address issues like citizenships and safety a sustainable and viable solution before repatriation.

On the other hand if the refugees move to the “Temporary Transit Camp”, which is being built by the Myanmar government, it would turn into an IDP camp that will turn into a giant prison for them. They will confine in the camps and will not allow returning in their village or will not allow living elsewhere or travelling freely. The people who were brought in the IDPs are yet to be allowed to their home which was destroyed.

In 1978 in the clearance Operation Nagamin (Dragon King) to clear the illegal “Bengali Interlopers” by Myanmar Army about 220,000 Rohingya people have taken shelter in Bangladesh. Following a “1978 Repatriation Agreement” in between the Bangladesh and Myanmar governments some 187,250 Rohingya refugees were repatriated from Bangladesh by December 1979. The agreement signed between the two countries represents that Myanmar recognised the Rohingyas’ legal residence in the country.

Due to widespread forced labour, rapes, torture, killing and religious persecution another 250,000 Rohingya people fled to Bangladesh in between 1991 to 1992. Following another agreement signed between the two countries titled “Joint statement by the foreign ministers of Bangladesh & Myanmar” issued at the conclusion of the official visit of the Myanmar Foreign Minister to Bangladesh 23 - 28 April 1992 some 236,599 refugees were repatriated to Myanmar till 2008.

Though it was alleged that in 1997 the repatriation did not execute duly in 1997, there were allegations of forced repatriation. Besides 33,148 registered Rohingya refugees are living in two registered Rohingya Refugee Camps, Kutupalong and Nayapara of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.

In 2014, it was estimated that there were between 200,000 and 500, 000 unregistered Rohingya in this country. Following the military crackdown in Rakhine in October 2016 in responding to an insurgent attack at police outpost, around 74 000 new Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh as per the estimation of The United Nations (UN). In response the clearance operation of military in Rakhine lasted from August 25, 2017 to January 21, 2018 and the number of Rohingya refugees stands at 688,0000  who escaped from the atrocities committed by the Myanmar security forces, local Buddhist mobs and people from other groups in Rakhine. The devastation in Rakhine in 2017 has crossed all the previous record.

In September 2017, 55-year old disabled Anjul Haque who fled his homeland came here for the third time from Gorakhali of Maungdaw. He was repatriated twice in 1978 and 1992 to his native land with the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  Finally Haque had fled his motherland for the third time in September 2017, riding on the shoulders of other men. Another octogenarian Rohingya refugee Hasina Khatun arrived from Shahab Bazar in Mungdaw said she has Burmese ID card and she was living in Myanmar for 80 years since  her birth but she said the military forcibly evicted them, saying that they are Bengali immigrants to Myanmar. Now if Anjul Haque wants to return to his home again under agreement between the countries there is no guarantee for him that he doesn’t need to flee again in the near future.

Bangladesh should include international bodies like UNHCR to supervise the process of repatriation and the international community should give more pressure that the Myanmar amend their Citizenship Law of 1982 and ensure the citizenship of Rohingyas, restore their freedom of movement, education and health like other citizens unless the crisis will remain unchanged.  Before sending them to their village, their security should be ensured along with shelter, food, health facilities and education facilities. Otherwise, they will return again in Bangladesh as most of the homes of the Rohingyas who have fled to Bangladesh were burnt down. Their croplands have been damaged or there is no cultivation now.

The writer is In-charge, Chittagong Bureau, The Independent