Tripartite talks: Dhaka’s cautious hope on Rohingya return

Working committee meet in Feb 1st week; verification needs to be expedited
Dhaka, Jan 19 – Bangladesh has 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. The two countries will address the relevant issues, including a joint working group meeting with an expansion that will be held in February first week to prepare the ground for repatriation in the second quarter of the current year.
“Personally, I would say, I’m cautiously optimistic. We’ll keep trying with our hearts and souls,” Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen told reporters at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after a 90-minute tripartite meeting held virtually with Myanmar and China.
The China-Bangladesh-Myanmar meeting was chaired by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui and Myanmar Deputy Minister of International Cooperation Hau Do Suan led the Myanmar side.
Masud Momen who led the Bangladesh side in the meeting said at least the process should start and it will take a long time to send back all Rohingyas, more importantly, the number is growing with 90,000 children that took birth in the last three years.
The Foreign Secretary said more complications might come but there is no alternative to early beginning of repatriation.
Bangladesh proposed starting the repatriation in the first quarter but Myanmar said the logistical arrangement will take some more time, especially they have a meeting in Parliament on April 1.
“Apparently, it’ll be difficult to begin in the first quarter,” said Masud Momen adding that a DG-level hotline will be opened for instant communication between the two countries over repatriation issues.
The Foreign Secretary said they want to proceed by taking lessons from the two failed attempts so that this time the repatriation can be started successfully.
“There’re many factors. We’re keeping those factors into consideration as we couldn’t be successful by giving two dates previously. We’re taking lessons from that and finding ways on how we can become successful. We’ll remain engaged sincerely,” he said.
Masud Momen said they do not think overnight everything will be resolved but they want to do it taking all on board including the international community and INGOs.
The Foreign Secretary said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has written to the office of the Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) to open a repatriation wing.
The wing will be solely responsible to do repatriation related works as the MoFA cannot do it from here directly.
The Myanmar side sought assurances that the Rohingyas will abide by Myanmar’s laws and regulations and also mentioned the presence of ARSA.
“We said we don’t allow any insurgents or terrorist groups on our soil. There are some criminal groups, but they don’t have any religious or political identities. We maintain zero level,” the Foreign Secretary said.
When the Chinese Vice Minister summarized the international community’s constructive engagement, the Myanmar side did not oppose it meaning they are also in principle agreed, he said.
The three parties reviewed the progress of previous works, discussed the way forward, and reiterated our commitment to creating favorable conditions for the early repatriation of displaced Myanmar residents from Rakhine.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui said the international community, China included, should play a constructive role instead of further complicating the situation.
“Promoting development is the fundamental way to address the issue,” he said.
The Chinese Vice Foreign Minister pointed out that since 2017, China has been actively engaged in mediation between Bangladesh and Myanmar.
As a friend to both countries, China has been trying to bring the two parties closer by establishing various channels for dialogue, including informal foreign ministers’ meeting, vice-ministerial level meeting and tripartite working group mechanism, according to Chinese Embassy in Dhaka.
China also facilitates direct communication between Bangladesh and Myanmar, said the Embassy.
Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui reiterated China’s position that the issue of displaced people from Rakhine is ultimately a bilateral one, hence bilateral negotiation and consultation between Bangladesh and Myanmar should be prioritized for finding a durable solution.
“China is happy to see the positive outcomes of the meeting, and is ready, whenever necessary, to provide political and material assistance to complement the bilateral efforts,” he said.
Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen and Deputy Minister Hau Do Suan discussed a possible road map for starting repatriation, the modus operandi for carrying out fieldwork and ways to strengthen bilateral and trilateral coordination.
The two sides also agreed that the issue of repatriation should be resolved with goodwill and utmost sincerity, and that an early and durable settlement would contribute to better Bangladesh-Myanmar cooperation, stronger regional connectivity, and shared prosperity for all.
The repatriation talks with Myanmar remained halted for nearly a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and general elections in Myanmar.
The international community finds the repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar as the only solution to the crisis while Bangladesh wants to begin repatriation as soon as possible.
On the eve of discussions between Bangladesh and Myanmar on resolving the Rohingya refugee crisis, China, which provides the ‘tripartite’ framework to the dialogue, said it will continue to support the other two countries to find an early and durable solution.
China also assured that it will promote peace, development, and prosperity in the region.
Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jiming met Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday and discussed the issue.
Earlier, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen said Bangladesh has handed over a list of 840,000 Rohingyas to Myanmar for verification.
“Myanmar has verified very few people. They’re very slow. They 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.
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 U.S. 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 and things would have been different had they returned.
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. – UNB