BD-Burma talks Friday on Rohingya repatriation

Dhaka – Bangladesh and Myanmar are going to sit in Naypyidaw on Friday to discuss the Rohingya repatriation issue as the current crisis steps into almost two years with “zero progress” on Myanmar side that can help Rohingyas return to their place of origin confidently.

Bangladesh is expected to press for “expediting” the ongoing process to build confidence among Rohingyas during the fourth Bangladesh-Myanmar joint working group (JWG) meeting as the “lack of trust” remains one of the key issues, an official told agency.

He said Bangladesh is likely to place a proposal to Myanmar to arrange a tour for Rohingya representatives to Rakhine State so that they can see the situation there as part of confidence-building measures, the official said. 

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock, who visited Rohingya camps recently, said Myanmar has failed “to put in place confidence-building measures that will persuade people that it’s safe to go back.”

The Bangladesh delegation, led by Secretary-Bilateral (Asia & Pacific) Mahbub Uz Zaman, is already in Myanmar capital to attend the fourth Bangladesh-Myanmar joint working group (JWG) meeting.

The primary objective of the JWG is to implement expeditiously the “Arrangements on Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State” signed on November 23, 2017 between Bangladesh and Myanmar, a senior official, who is also member of Bangladesh delegation, told Agency.

The JWG was established to oversee all the aspects of return of verified Myanmar residents from Rakhine State who are living in Cox’s Bazar district.  “The JWG will discuss such related issues within its purview,” said the official.

As per terms of reference, the JWG is responsible for the smooth conduct of return of displaced Myanmar residents from Rakhine State and their reintegration. 

“Therefore, in order to expedite the repatriation process, all the pertinent issues may come up for discussion,” said another senior official adding that the status of the repatriation process, the possible way forward and its related issues will also be discussed in the one-day meeting.

The third foreign secretary-level JWG meeting, held at State guesthouse Meghna in Dhaka, was co-chaired by Permanent Secretary Myint Thu of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar and his Bangladeshi counterpart Senior Secretary M Shahidul Haque of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

At the third JWG meeting last year, Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed to start repatriating the first group of Rohingyas by mid-November which was halted due to unwillingness of Rohingyas to return amid the absence of conducive environment in Rakhine.

In August last year, a Bangladesh delegation, led by then Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali, saw the “trail of wide-spread devastation” suffered by the people of the northern Rakhine State.

Bangladesh is now hosting over 1.2 million Rohingyas with more than 700,000 fled to Bangladesh from Rakhine state since August 25, 2017.

Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, effectively rendering them stateless, and they are also denied freedom of movement and other basic rights.

Prof Imtiaz Ahmed of Dhaka University’s International Relations department has said the government needs to change its body language while dealing with Myanmar over Rohingya issue and put much emphasis on internationalisation of the issue in a bigger way.

“The body language must change when we’re negotiating with Myanmar. This is very important,” he said advising the government of Bangladesh to study how Indira Gandhi tackled Pakistan in 1971 and deal with Myanmar accordingly to address the Rohingya crisis.

Bangladesh wants a “peaceful” solution to the crisis and remains engaged bilaterally with Myanmar and internationally.

On April 29, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he sees “no solution other than a bilateral one” based on dialogue and mutual understanding, the way it should be between neighbours.

“We’re convinced that a direct dialogue between Dhaka and Naypyidaw is the main factor in the settlement, and the role of the international community is to provide constructive assistance to both states in implementing bilateral agreements,” he said after his meeting with Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen in Moscow.

The Russian Foreign Minister said the repatriation could have started as early as November last but unfortunately it did not happen. “We need to do our best to resume this process.”

Talking about recent visit of three top UN officials to Bangladesh, Lavrov said these high representatives, “probably contrary to the mandates” of their organisations, expressed doubts about the expediency of starting the repatriation of 8,000 verified Rohingyas.

“These refugees are ready to return. I was surprised that representatives of the UN and its specialised agencies showed interest in keeping refugees on the territory of another country,” he said.UNB