General

Bangladesh hopeful of continuing Rohingya repatriation talks

Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen on Wednesday said Bangladesh is hopeful of proceeding as per the plan to repatriate Rohingyas to Myanmar as history tells that Rohingyas had been repatriated twice in 1978 and 1992 under military the government in Myanmar.

“We want to continue the process. The process should continue as we had seen repatriation in 1978 and 1992 — why not this time? It’s an opportunity for Myanmar. They should take this advantage,” he told reporters at his office.

Responding to a question, the Foreign Minister said they are unable to contact Myanmar’s interim government at this moment as all communication channels are cut off.

Asked about the next round of discussions on Rohingya repatriation, scheduled to take place virtually on Thursday, the Foreign Minister said he is not sure of it yet. “Officials are working on it.”

Bangladesh hoped that the democratic process and constitutional arrangements will be upheld in Myanmar and the Rohingya repatriation process will continue.

“We’ve been persistent in developing mutually beneficial relations with Myanmar and have been working with Myanmar for the voluntary, safe, and sustained repatriation of the Rohingyas sheltered in Bangladesh. We expect these processes to continue in right earnest,” said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) on Monday.

It said Bangladesh firmly adheres to and promotes democratic ethos and as an immediate and friendly neighbour, Bangladesh would like to see peace and stability in Myanmar.

Asked whether Bangladesh condemned the military coup in Myanmar, Dr Momen said the military has been ruling Myanmar for decades and many countries finish their job by only condemning. “We said we believe in democracy and our message was conveyed strongly.”

The Foreign Minister was asked whether Bangladesh welcomed the new government in Myanmar. In reply, Dr Momen said, “We didn’t welcome them but we gave them advice.”

He also said Bangladesh did not demand the release of Aung San Suu Kyi as Rohingyas might ask her to come to Kutupalong Rohingya camp to see their situation.

There was an elected and democratic government in Myanmar when Rohingyas were brutally tortured and “no one can accept it,” Dr Momen said.

Asked about China’s role in the UNSC, the Foreign Minister said Bangladesh approached all countries, including the United Nations, and the issue went to the international court.

He said all gave lip services but China came forward. “We can’t interfere in China’s policy but we kept China in our confidence.”

Dr Momen said some countries fear further influx amid the changed situation in Myanmar but Bangladesh kept its border secure. “In the past, our people welcomed Rohingyas. Now, they are not in a mood to welcome more.”

On Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen said Bangladesh is yet to establish any contact with the new military-led interim government in Myanmar but communicated with the Chinese Ambassador in Dhaka as China is mediating talks between Bangladesh and Myanmar over Rohingya repatriation.

“We had a conversation with the Chinese Ambassador here on Monday. Let’s wait until tomorrow (Wednesday),” he said adding that they are waiting for feedback from Myanmar about the planned DG-level working group meeting as there is no formal communication with the interim government of Myanmar.

Masud Momen said they had a preference for talks on February 4 with Myanmar and China is enquiring about it. “There might be some logistical issues since there has been a change in Myanmar.”

He said Bangladesh wants to hold the working group meeting with Myanmar as soon as possible and follow the remaining agreed roadmap on Rohingya repatriation. “We conveyed it to the Chinese side.”

Responding to a question, the Foreign Secretary said diplomacy can continue with everybody and every level and referred Bangladesh Army chief General Aziz Ahmed’s visit to Myanmar.

He said Bangladesh will establish communication with the new interim government in Myanmar once it becomes functional.

Earlier, Myanmar said they are committed to beginning the repatriation of Rohingyas as per the bilateral agreement signed with Bangladesh in 2017.

Bangladesh handed over a list of 840,000 Rohingyas to Myanmar for verification. Myanmar has verified only 42,000 people (5 percent). “There’s a serious lack of seriousness,” said the Foreign Minister.

Dr Momen said they are doing their part but Myanmar is not helping the same way. He said he is always hopeful of beginning repatriation as history says they took back their nationals in 1978 and 1992.

Rohingya Crisis and Repatriation

More than three years ago, Myanmar’s soldiers “targeted, killed, and raped” Rohingya and burned their villages, as the United Nations, Refugees International, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the US State Department itself, and many others have documented.

Over 800,000 Rohingyas fled the “genocidal violence” and Bangladesh is now hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas.

Bangladesh is trying in multiple ways – bilaterally, multilaterally, tri-laterally, and through the judicial system – to find a lasting solution to the Rohingya crisis.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed the repatriation deal on November 23, 2017.

They then signed a document on “Physical Arrangement”, which was supposed to facilitate the return of Rohingyas to their homeland.

But repatriation attempts failed twice in November 2018 and August 2019 – clearly amid Rohingyas’ “lack of trust” in the Myanmar government.

Subsequently, during the 74th UNGA held in September 2019 in New York, China took an initiative to propose the tripartite framework with their presence largely in an overseeing the role that can nevertheless hold both sides to account on their respective commitments to each other.

The Bangladesh side had already complained of Myanmar acting in ‘bad faith’ during negotiations, whereby they never had any intention of taking the Rohingya back and was only meeting to keep up appearances.

However, soon after a meeting of the trio on January 20, 2020, the coronavirus lockdowns started taking its toll in different parts of the world.

Bangladesh pushed Myanmar hard on creating a favourable environment for Rohingya repatriation with an expeditious verification process and “cautiously expressed optimism” to begin it in the second quarter of this year.