‘No gap’ between Bangladesh and UN agencies, both sides insist

UN Resident Coordinator in Dhaka Mia Seppo on Sunday said there is no gap between the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry and the UN agencies on the matter of Rohingya repatriation saying they are coordinating their activities on the issue closely.

Her comment came a day after the Foreign Ministry's discussion with the UNHCR Bangladesh chief following the UN Spokesman's comments in New York.

The government on October 3 trashed the reports of a section of media that Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed to begin the repatriation of Rohingyas from mid-November without any consultation with UNHCR saying it is absolutely wrong.

"It's not true (that UNHCR was not consulted or informed). We informed them on the same day we shared the list with Myanmar, almost back to back. A written request was also sent. I don't see any gap," said Foreign Secretary M Shahidul Haque.

Spokesman for the UN Secretary General Stephane Dujarric at a media briefing in New York on Saturday said, "To be clear, we've seen the reports of the agreement between... the decisions reached by the joint Working Group between Bangladesh and Myanmar. UNHCR, which is in lead on the issues of refugees, was not consulted on this matter."

Director General (UN wing) at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nahida Sobhan had a meeting with UNHCR Bangladesh on Saturday to discuss the issue and wanted to know the reason behind the gap between UN's Dhaka and New York offices on the issue.

Talking to reporters after a seminar titled, "Bangladesh and the United Nations: Road Ahead" in the city on Sunday, Foreign Secretary M Shahidul Haque said Rohingyas need to decide on their own if they want to return to Myanmar.

"It's not Bangladesh's decision. It's not Myanmar's decision and it's not UNHCR's decision. The return is a decision that must be taken by Rohingyas," Haque said.

He said Bangladesh has welcomed Rohingyas and is doing what is necessary for them. "They have to go back to their own country," he said requesting all not to make it an issue for Bangladesh.

UN Resident Coordinator Mia Seppo and UNHCR, regional representative James Lynch were also present.

The UNHCR regional representative also said the return of Rohingyas is an individual decision to be taken by them.

"Return should be done voluntarily and in safety and dignity. And the return should be sustainable. One of the major issues they raised is citizenship and the security of the place of origin where they will return," he said.

The first batch of Rohingya repatriation will be a test case to know how Myanmar treats them after their return to the place of origin as the repatriation preparation begins between Bangladesh and Myanmar targeting November 15.

"The first batch of Rohingya repatriation will be a test case," a diplomatic source told UNB adding that it can be known how they are treated in Myanmar after their return as Myanmar assured all of their safety and security with confidence-building measures.

"The international community will also be able to assess the situation. If the repatriation doesn't start, you can't say anything," he added.

An official involved in the repatriation process said Bangladesh and the international community need to know the "ground reality" and the repatriation needs to be started.

Another diplomatic source said some are trying to give an impression that Bangladesh has taken it as a "business venture" and Bangladesh does not want the repatriation of Rohingyas. "This is absolutely wrong."

Earlier, Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed to begin the first batch of repatriation in mid-November and a list of 2,260 Rohingyas, including 450 Hindus of 485 families, has been handed over to the Myanmar side.

Diplomatic sources said a total of 450 Hindus are willing to go back and 66 of them have valid documents and do not need any further verification.

Bangladesh also has handed over a new list of 22,432 Rohingyas to Myanmar side during the last joint working group meeting between the two countries.

Bangladesh first handed over the list to Myanmar Ambassador in Dhaka U Lwin Oo on October 28 and the UNHCR was also informed on the same day to take preparation.

Asked why UN claimed that UNHCR was not consulted, a diplomatic source said, "This is a blatant lie. From the very beginning, a few people within the UN are trying to make the repatriation process questionable. That might be one of the reasons behind it or there's a gap between New York and Dhaka (offices of UN agencies)."

Asked about specific date of beginning the repatriation of the first batch, Foreign Secretary Haque said both sides are looking for November 15 as actual repatriation needs to start as per the arrangement signed between the two countries within two weeks of submitting a list.

A diplomatic source in Yangon said China is putting pressure on Myanmar to take back their nationals from Bangladesh as soon as possible. "And Myanmar is behaving very positively so far. Let's see what happens."

Earlier, India welcomed the decision taken by Bangladesh and Myanmar to start the repatriation of Rohingyas, who belong to the Rakhine state, in mid-November.

"We welcome the agreement which was reached between the Foreign Secretaries of Bangladesh and Myanmar," said spokesperson of Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Raveesh Kumar.

Permanent Secretary of Myanmar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Myint Thu said they have verified about 5,000 Rohingyas.

Meanwhile the Rohingyas have said they will not go back to their place of origin in Rakhine unless their basic rights, including citizenship and housing facilities, are provided.

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