Repatriation cannot risk refoulement

AKM Moinuddin
Thursday, December 14th, 2017
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The process to repatriate Rohingyas living in Bangladesh is destined to face ‘serious challenges’ as these displaced Muslims are unwilling to return immediately in absence of any future safeguard for them.


Dhaka Courier reached a number of Rohingyas who arrived in Bangladesh since August 25 who claimed that they are living comfortably in Bangladesh without any fear and willing to stay back here.


“I have lost my wife, son, mother, brother, and two sisters. Are you asking me to go back to Myanmar? For whom?” Ramzan Ali, one of the Rohingyas, told Dhaka Courier explaining his position.


He said if anybody forces him to leave Bangladesh, he will rather ask him to shoot and kill him. “I’ve nothing there. Everything is destroyed,” he said.


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 Dhaka Courier.


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,” said Prof Riaz of the Department of Politics and Government at Illinois State University, USA.


He said without any conducive and secure environment, a reliable arrangement for humanitarian support inside Myanmar for the returning refugees, and a path for long-term solution, Rohingyas will have little incentives to return.


“None of these are part of the bilateral instrument regarding the repatriation signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar. I’m afraid the repatriation process is destined to face serious challenges, even if it starts at all,” Prof Riaz said.

Though Bangladesh has signed a bilateral instrument on return of Rohingyas, it is seeking sustained pressure on Myanmar to resolve the crisis.


Asked about it, the political analyst said he thinks Bangladesh has “hastily agreed” to a bilateral arrangement, seemingly under the “Chinese insistence”.


He said one of the key weaknesses of the ambiguous arrangement is the absence of any third-party — there is no third-party guarantor, no mediation process.


Prof Riaz said the signed instrument, at best, should be treated as a framework, and Bangladesh should work with the international community on the details of the repatriation process before proceeding further with Myanmar.



HRW weighs in


Calling for the bilateral Rohingya return deal to be scrapped, Human Rights Watch has said Bangladesh and Myanmar should invite UNHCR to join in the drafting of a new tripartite agreement.


“After the widespread atrocities, safe and voluntary return of Rohingyas will require international monitors on the ground in Burma,” said Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at Human Rights Watch.


This means, Frelick said, a central role for the UNHCR, the only UN agency with a statutory mandate to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of refugees.


“This should include some existing provisions, such as encouraging refugees to return voluntarily and safely to their own households and original places of residence or to a safe and secure place nearest to it or their choice,” the global watchdog body said given the “critical flaws” in the agreement.


The current agreement also commits Myanmar “to see that the returnees will not be settled in temporary places for a long time.”


The agreement by Bangladesh and Myanmar to begin returning Rohingyas to Myanmar by January 23, 2018, creates an “impossible timetable” for safe and voluntary returns and should be shelved, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to the two governments.


International donors, who would be needed to fund the massive repatriation effort, should insist that Bangladesh and Myanmar invite the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to join in drafting a new tripartite agreement that ensures adherence to international standards, it said.


“Burma has yet to end its military abuses against the Rohingya, let alone create conditions that would allow them to return home safely,” said Frelick.


“This agreement looks more like a public relations effort by Burma to quickly close this ugly chapter than a serious effort to restore the rights of Rohingya and allow them to voluntarily return in safety and dignity.”


On November 23, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an “Arrangement on Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State” on behalf of “residents of Rakhine State” who crossed from Myanmar into Bangladesh after October 9, 2016 and August 25, 2017.


The agreement makes no reference to the cause of most of the forced displacement: a campaign of killings, widespread rape, and mass arson carried out by Myanmar security forces that amounted to crimes against humanity.

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