Growing uncertainty over Rohingya repatriation
AN ASEAN report predicting half a million Rohingya refugees will return to Myanmar in two years has left observers incredulous for glossing over army atrocities, ignoring an ongoing civil war in Rakhine State and failing to mention the persecuted Muslim minority by name. The leaked report, penned by the Southeast Asian bloc's "Emergency Response and Assessment Team" (ASEAN-ERAT) and seen by AFP, is expected to be released in the coming weeks. It gives a glowing assessment of Myanmar's efforts to entice Rohingya refugees back from Bangladesh, where some 7,40,000 have taken shelter in fetid overcrowded camps. Bangladesh government should be careful enough to express reaction and assist all plans over repatriation of Rohingya people to their ancestral land with the confirmation of citizenship, rights and dignity.
Claiming to root out insurgents, Myanmar's military drove the Rohingya from Rakhine and over the border in a 2017 crackdown, the latest in several waves of persecution. Evidence of widespread murder, rape and arson prompted UN investigators to call for the prosecution of top Myanmar generals for "genocide". Dhaka and Naypyidaw signed a repatriation deal in November 2017 but so far no Rohingya willingly agreed to return out of fear for their safety and rights.
The "Preliminary Needs Assessment for Repatriation in Rakhine State, Myanmar", works off the basis of 500,000 Rohingya returning --- that is the official number of refugees given by Myanmar; well below figures from Bangladesh and the UN. Even the word "Rohingya" is not used in the report, which instead refers to the community as "Muslims". It claims automated rather than manual processing of returnees would mean repatriation will be "completed in a little more than two years". In light of the repatriation deal, some 300 Rohingyas can return to Myanmar per day, means it will take about a decade for all of the nearly one million Rohingyas to go back home.
The major issue is that - the displaced Rohingyas want to return to their places of origin, not to temporary camps set up in Myanmar. The only thing that Bangladesh can do is sustainable and safe repatriation of the refugees; so that they are not forced to flee to Bangladesh again.