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A more realistic take on the Rohingya repatriation deal

This cannot be a long-term solution MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU

By Tahsin Noor Salim
January 15, 2018

How can they go back under these conditions?

In order to carry out the repatriation process for the Rohingya, Bangladesh and Myanmar mutually consented to an arrangement on November 23 last year.

The features of the agreement originate from a repatriation bargain made between Myanmar and Bangladesh in 1992. As per the 1992 agreement, Myanmar would only allow those who would be able to submit identity documents.

According to Nay San Lwin, a Rohingya activist, the identity documents of the Rohingya were seized before August 25 or destroyed when their houses were burned.

The question, then, invariably becomes: How can anyone expect those who have had their homes and belongings get razed by fires, who have had their own children be ripped away from their arms and thrown into the same fires, to carry their identification papers with them when they fled from such nightmares?

Some of the other contentious terms of the agreement include:

• Repatriation requiring Myanmar-issued proof of residency

• The Myanmar government’s right to refuse repatriation to individuals

• The repatriated being settled in temporary locations with severely restricted movement

According to Professor CR Abrar, an expert on matters of migration, such a deal will not yield any fruitful result. He also expressed that, “chances are very slim that our expectations on repatriation and rehabilitation of the Rohingya will come true, but we would be enlightened if it turns into reality.”

Similarly, Jim Della-Giacoma holds the view that the agreement is more of a diplomatic ploy and not a serious step in resolving the crisis.

What I believe is also missing in the agreement are the voices and demands of the Rohingya themselves. At an international conference held at Dhaka University on November 29, it was highlighted that the Rohingya currently housed in Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar, had expressed that they had four clear demands:

• The UN army should be deployed for the security of the Rohingyas once they are repatriated

• The perpetrators should be prosecuted and brought before international justice

• The Rohingya should be compensated for their property and other losses

• The Rohingya should be given citizenship and that the Kofi Anan proposal should be implemented

Bangladesh, a relatively poor country with inadequate cultivable land and resources and a population of about 170 million, cannot be responsible to bring a solution to the crisis by itself

It seems unlikely that Myanmar would agree to the proposition for the UN army to be deployed to ensure that the Rohingya are safe. Although Bangladesh wants the involvement of UNHCR, Myanmar is reluctant. It seems that Myanmar is disinclined even about minimal supervision by the international community.

In the memorandum, it mentions that Myanmar has the final say in any dispute. Unfortunately, to the utmost inconvenience of the Rohingya, the ball remains in Myanmar’s court.

Given the uncertain state of affairs, how can the Rohingya wish to be repatriated?

There is no specific time-frame as to how long they will have to remain under such conditions. With such a clause, how can we expect that the Rohingya will be given their due rights as citizens?

Although the Rohingya who have safely crossed the shores are provided essential protection and assistance in Bangladesh, this is not a long-term solution.

What still remains in the grey area is the future of the Rohingya and their children — their ability to secure a source of revenue, access to the justice system and basic rights as citizens.

Bangladesh, a relatively poor country with inadequate cultivable land and resources and a population of about 170 million, cannot be responsible to bring a solution to the crisis by itself.

What we need now is for more affluent countries to shoulder some of that responsibility, and a more pro-active approach from the international community and neutral organisations such as the UN.

To that end, Bangladesh needs more foreign investment as well. The international community can help our nation build up a stronger economy through investing in it. In the long run, it will eventually heighten trade opportunities and generate employment opportunities for the Bangladeshi citizens and the Rohingya as well.

The Rohingya could also be given vocational training to make them occupationally mobile.

With the repatriation process under the aforesaid agreement appearing bleak with looming uncertainties, Bangladesh receiving a helping hand from some of the more well-off nations can only make life that much easier for the Rohingya currently in our shores.

Tahsin Noor Salim is a Researcher at Bangladesh Institute of Legal and International Affairs (BILIA).

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