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Bangladesh close to Rohingya repatriation deal with Myanmar, says foreign secy

Centre for Policy Dialogue arranges a dialogue on 'Addressing Rohingya Crisis: Options for Bangladesh' at a city hotel on Saturday.-- CPD

November 12, 2017

Remained focused on having a 'bilateral' solution to the Rohingya crisis, Bangladesh is very close to reaching a repatriation agreement with Myanmar, said foreign secretary Shahidul Haque in Dhaka on Saturday.

‘Currently, we're focusing on signing a bilateral arrangement for the return of Rohingyas...we're very close in terms of reaching a return agreement with Myanmar authorities,’ he said.

The foreign secretary was addressing a dialogue titled 'Addressing Rohingya Crisis: Options for Bangladesh' arranged by Centre for Policy Dialogue at a city hotel.

He, however, said if the bilateral arrangement does not work finally, Bangladesh has other options on the table which he would not share right now.

Imtiaz Ahmed of Dhaka University's department of international relations, former Bangladesh ambassador to Myanmar Anup Kumar Chakma and executive director, BRAC Muhammad Musa spoke at the dialogue.

CPD executive director Fahmida Khatun presented the keynote paper at the dialogue chaired by CPD chairman Rehman Sobhan. CPD distinguished fellow Debapriya Bhattacharya moderated the session.

The foreign secretary said foreign minister AH Mahmood Ali is going to Myanmar later this month. ‘Hopefully, we'll be able to close the differences we have in a couple of places of the latest draft. We think we'll be able to resolve it peacefully.’

Noting that the Rohingya crisis will have to be solved maintaining the good relations with Myanmar, Shahidul Haque said Bangladesh has so far adopted a policy which is a mix of 'soft and hard approaches' to resolve the Rohingya crisis.

He agreed with Imtiaz Ahmed who earlier at the dialogue said the radicalisation cannot emerge from the camps at the moment.

Explaining why the terminology 'refugee' is not being used for Rohingyas, he said the government of Bangladesh calls them 'forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals', not citizens, following its experiences of 1978 and 1991-92.

One of the reasons is this time Myanmar wanted to call the people refugees.

In reply to Bangladesh's prime minister's statement in the United Nations General Assembly, Myanmar called 'refugees' in fact, he said.

Imtiaz said Bangladesh should call the Rohingyas 'refugee' as the terminology 'forcibly displaced Myanmar citizens,' does not make any sense and it is not a legal term as well.

The terminology 'forcibly displaced Myanmar citizens,' is absolutely unworkable and wrong as they are not Myanmar citizens, he said adding that citizen is a legal term. ‘So, I think, first we should call them what they are. They are refugees that a legal term. Once you call them refugees, they have to go back,’ he said.

Imtiaz said, ‘For the first time, there is an international consensus and there is enough footage to say genocide took place. Since it is genocide or ethnic cleansing, it cannot be bilateral. No genocide in the world can be bilateral. It's an international issue.’

He said Rohingyas are not only in Bangladesh, also in several countries including India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Imtiaz also said it is high time to arrange international conferences with the countries that hosted Rohingyas. ‘The international community should not see it as an issue between Bangladesh and Myanmar. They rather should see it as a global issue as Rohingya Diaspora is everywhere.’

Imtiaz said radicalisation will not come from the camps and it did not come in the 1970s and 1990s.

Former ambassador Farooq Sobhan said if the Rohingya problem is not solved, the whole 'One Belt One Road Initiative' and BIMSTEC will be seriously jeopardised.

Rounaq Jahan said the media should focus on the plight of Rohingya rather than the challenges of Bangladesh in this regard.

Sukumar Barua said it is not religious issue between Muslim and Buddhist rather it is an issue of state. ‘It can be solved bilaterally but international community will have to keep pressure for resolving the crisis.’

The Buddhist people of Bangladesh extended their helping hands to the displaced Rohingyas, he added.

Indigenous community leader Sanjeeb Drong said if it takes a longer time to send back Rohingyas, the life and security of the indigenous community will be seriously affected in the Chittagong Hill Tracks.

Fahmida, in her keynote presentation, said some Tk 7,126 crore (US$ 882 million) will be required for 10 months from September 2017 to June 2018 to maintain the displaced Rohingyas in Cox's Bazar.

The CPD estimated the fund requirement for the 10 months of the current fiscal year based on an UNHCR estimate, she said.

The initial loss of forest area due to the Rohingya influx is 3,500 acres, which is 0.05 percent loss in total national forest area, the CPD executive director said.

BGB director general Major General Abul Hossain, security expert M Sakhawat Hossain, ActionAid country director Farah Kabir and diplomats from different foreign missions stationed in Dhaka also spoke at the dialogue.

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