Rohingya repatriation: Next round talks look uncertain

Amid the changed situation in Myanmar, the next round of discussions on Rohingya repatriation, scheduled to take place virtually on Thursday, looks uncertain.

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),” Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen told reporters at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday.

He said 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 commination with the new interim government in Myanmar once it becomes functional.

“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 on Monday.

The Foreign Secretary said Bangladesh remains more vigilant along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border amid the changed situation in Myanmar.

Expectation from UNSC

Responding to a question, the Foreign Secretary said Bangladesh wants to see Rohingya repatriation issue is discussed at the UN Security Council meeting instead of only political situation in Myanmar.

Masud Momen said they are focusing on accountability and repatriation fronts. “Due to the changed situation in Myanmar, issues related to getting back democracy on track and political matters will come up for the discussion. But we want to see that Rohingya issue is discussed at the meeting.”

The United Nations Security Council should impose a global arms embargo on Myanmar and refer the situation in the country to the International Criminal Court (ICC), said Fortify Rights on Tuesday.

The Security Council is scheduled to meet on Tuesday in response to a coup launched on Monday by the Myanmar military.

“The Myanmar military poses a threat to international peace and security, and now it has taken full control of the government,” said Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights.

The Security Council has an opportunity to do the right thing at the right time, and to end its shameful record of inaction, he said.

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

Myanmar’s International Cooperation Minister Kyaw Tin conveyed it to Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen in a recent letter.

The Myanmar Minister also said they are committed to ensuring peaceful relations with all neighbours, including Bangladesh, and resolving any problems peacefully.

Kyaw Tin said they want to resolve any bilateral issues with neighbours through mutual partnership.

He hoped to begin the repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar soon through the tripartite talks held among Bangladesh, Myanmar and China on January 19.

Bangladesh has 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 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.