Even though the repatriation of Rohingyas has made no substantial progress in the last five years, a delegation of Rohingya refugees traveled to Myanmar on Friday to see new facilities erected in preparation for the resurrection of the long-stalled plan. Officials have expressed optimism that repatriations will resume later this month. However, it is unclear whether this is a genuine development or merely an attempt of Myanmar to delay the return of all Rohingya refugees.
Over one million Rohingya are currently residing in the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh, and the vast majority of them fled a 2017 military offensive in Myanmar that is currently under investigation by the United Nations for genocide. Repatriation of Rohingya refugees is currently the main concern for Bangladesh and there have been difficulties with overpopulation, instability, and violence in the refugee camps.
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When it comes to helping the Rohingya, Bangladesh has already gone above and above. Bangladesh has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention. As a result, Bangladesh is not required by law to house any refugees on the territory of the country. However, for humanitarian reasons, Bangladesh has provided Rohingyas with shelter.
Futile attempts to repatriate the refugees
In January 2018, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed the Physical Arrangement Agreement. In accordance with its terms, Myanmar was supposed to make all necessary preparations for their return, and from the date the repatriation begins, they would finish it within two years. Since then, unfortunately, little progress has been made, and the United Nations has repeatedly warned that conditions are not suitable for their repatriation.
Following the widespread exodus of Rohingya from Myanmar’s Rakhine state to Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar in 2017, two unsuccessful repatriation attempts were made in 2018 and 2019, respectively. In both instances, the Rohingya refused to return to their homeland out of fear of further persecution and a hostile resettlement environment. With the military takeover of Myanmar in 2021, the junta liable for mass murders and genocide against the Rohingya was consolidating its power, uninterested in resolving the crisis despite Bangladesh and other allies’ efforts and initiatives.
Why is the repatriation stalling?
The primary causes of the impasse in the repatriation process are Myanmar’s reluctance, the pandemic, and the military coup in Myanmar. In June of last year, the Rohingya staged a massive demonstration and expressed their desire to return home. The primary obstacle lies in figuring out how they are going to return.
The growing threats
In order to establish 34 settlements in the Ukhia and Teknaf region, Bangladesh had to endure enormous ecological damage. There are now over 12 million Rohingya residing there. Every year, there are 35 thousand births. Once-forested land covering 4,500 acres has been completely destroyed. In addition, funding for Rohingya refugees in 2022 has decreased substantially compared to the two previous years, which has alarmed humanitarian organizations and the Bangladeshi government.
The situation in the Rohingya refugee settlements is deteriorating because Western countries have shifted their focus to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Multiple global crises, such as the Covid pandemic, the Afghanistan crisis, and lately the Russia-Ukraine conflict, have exacerbated and exacerbated the condition. In 2022, only 43% of the required amount of USD 881 million under the Joint Response Plan has been funded, according to reports. In 2021, 72 percent of the required USD 943 million was disbursed.
The sudden appearance of “pilot project” by Junta government
China’s ambassador in Dhaka stated at a press conference on 10 May 2021 that he saw no possibility of a tripartite meeting (Bangladesh-China-Myanmar) occurring in the ‘foreseeable future’ and had no intention of holding one. Since then, the repatriation of Rohingyas has been idle until it was reported that the Myanmar junta had dispatched a team to Bangladesh on a ‘pilot project’ to repatriate a couple hundred Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh.
China is negotiating a pilot initiative to repatriate over 1,100 Rohingya refugees between Bangladesh and Myanmar. Nevertheless, according to specialists and reports, Myanmar is taking this symbolic action to “lighten the responsibility” in its next submission to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in May regarding the Rohingya genocide.
On Friday, May 5, 2023, approximately 20 Rohingyas and seven Bangladeshi officials, including a border patrol officer, were sent to visit the two model villages constructed for the pilot return project. “They will see the various facilities created for the purpose of repatriation to Myanmar,” said Deputy Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, Mohammed Khalid Hossain.
According to Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, the new facilities for returning refugees include a market, hospital, and reception center.
Officials anticipate that the repatriations will commence later this month, prior to the annual monsoon season. Previously, a list of more than 880,000 Rohingyas was sent to Myanmar, where the identities of approximately 70,000 were verified by them. As previously stated, approximately 1,100 individuals were identified in the initial phase as a pilot initiative for their return. Later, Myanmar objected to the inclusion of 429 individuals on the list.
What is the impact of pilot project?
How beneficial would the pilot repatriation be for Bangladesh and the Rohingya people? The answer could be mixed. The program may be viewed as the beginning of a long-overdue repatriation, which may inspire greater repatriation in the future. It is also conceivable that the Rohingya are afraid and unwilling to return if those responsible for the past atrocities, both military and civilian, are not held accountable and brought to justice.
Experts view the pilot repatriation as advantageous for Myanmar due to pending ICJ cases. This will likely lessen the criminality of the Myanmar military and continue to marginalize and alienate the repatriated Rohingya without reestablishing their rights.
Many argue that the military regime, responsible for of the Rohingya genocide in 2017, has no intention of accepting refugees and will fight repatriation for as long as possible. If the regime had any reasonable intentions, it would have relocated more than 100,000 Rohingyas languishing in IDP camps in Sitwe, Rakhine, since the 2012 riot; that would have demonstrated their goodwill toward refugees.
For this reason, Bangladesh has a severe dilemma regarding how to handle this refugee crisis for years to come, including questions of national security, funding, administration, and the treatment of refugees and host populations. Due to the Ukraine conflict, the Rohingya humanitarian crisis has lost its urgency to the international community already.
The pilot repatriation project offered by Myanmar may impede the early repatriation of 1.1 million Rohingya refugees or can be the only attempt to halt the repatriation and earn advantage amid the pending ICJ cases.