Should Rohingyas go back to Myanmar ?

Erina Haque
About 1 million Rohingyas currently residing in Bangladesh are registered with the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR. A pilot project to repatriate over 1,100 Rohingya refugees is now in discussion. Bangladesh and Myanmar want to start the repatriation of Rohingyas before the monsoon season with the mediation of China. For this reason, a delegation of 27 members of the Rohingya and the Government visited Myanmar on Friday to monitor the situation in Rakhine. The delegation visited 15 villages in Myanmar’s Rakhine State on Friday afternoon. The purpose of the delegation was to see if Myanmar has a supportive environment suitable for repatriation.
On March 15, Teknaf, a 22-member Myanmar delegation from Maungdoo, Rakhine State, Myanmar, verified the information of 480 Rohingyas belonging to 177 families. A Rohingya delegation of 20 members was formed from that list.
However, according to media reports, the Rohingyas did not see a supportive environment for repatriation there. But Bangladesh is optimistic about Rohingya repatriation. Bangladesh’s foreign ministry said that after the Rohingyas return, each family will be given a house in the model village, land for agriculture, fertilizer and seeds. Rohingya girls running businesses independently there. The model village of Mangdu is much better than the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh. Those who will stay in the model village, each family (Rohinga) will be allocated one acre of land for cultivation, Rohingya children will have the opportunity to study in school as well as work and do business independently. Hospitals, mosques and playgrounds are being housed in the model villages, which were not present in Rohingya settlements in the past. Rohingyas should seize the opportunity.
Myanmar authorities have told Rohingyas that Rohingya returning from Bangladesh will be kept at the Maungdu transit center for only three days. Then transfer directly to Model Village. The Rohingyas will then be issued National Verification Certificates (NVCs) as citizens of Myanmar. The National Identity Card (NID) will be issued in phases if you can show the necessary documents as a resident of Myanmar.
During the visit, some members of the Rohingya delegation opposed the NVC and demanded resettlement in Janmvita instead of NID and Model Village.
Members of the Bangladesh delegation accompanying the Rohingya expressed their satisfaction with the environment. Claiming that the environment and situation in Rakhine is very good, they said that six years ago, more than 0.8 million Rohingyas from different parts of Rakhine State crossed the Naf River and took refuge in Bangladesh, but the Rohingyas did not move in the city of Maungdu.
The Rohingya delegation was led by Commissioner for Refugees, Relief and Repatriation Mohammad Mizanur Rahman. He told, “We visited Maungdoo city and also went to the village. We have also talked with the Rohingyas there, the environment is very good. Rohingyas roam freely in Maungdoo city, busy with work. We are optimistic and want to start quickly with Rohingya repatriation. A Myanmar delegation will come back to Bangladesh to talk to the Rohingyas. The head of the Rohingya delegation to Rakhine, Mohammad Chalim, said, “In addition to visiting 15 villages in Rakhine, the Rohingya delegation has been given the opportunity to see how much infrastructure has been built to support the repatriation to Rakhine.” But they want to take Rohingya with NBC card (guest card) without giving citizenship before repatriation. Myanmar authorities say citizenship will be granted six months after moving there. In response to this, we have said that repatriation should be started with citizenship first.
However, it is also important for Rohingyas to return to their own country. An entire population cannot live in a different country for years as a refugee of another in such a state deprived of their natural civil rights. They have the right to return to their own country, their land, their homes, where they will work with full civil rights to build a better life and a better future for themselves and their children. The programme may be seen as a start of the long-overdue repatriation, which may build confidence for future repatriation in greater numbers. But we need to keep in mind that it is the beginning. If the initiative sustains, more will follow and return to their ancestral home. Over 80 percent of the refugees in Cox’s Bazar rely on external aid to survive. Every family gets a monthly food ration of Tk 1,030 per person. Rohingyas repeatedly stressed that running a family with this allocation is very hard. On the other hand, the influx of refugees has put immense pressure on the host communities, and the environment in a densely populated country. The host communities in Cox’s Bazar are also highly vulnerable and at high risk of hunger like the Rohingyas, according to a WFP report.
It is also possible that the Rohingya are afraid and unwilling to return if their rights will be violated further. But the troubled question for Bangladesh, then, would be how to deal with this refugee crisis for potentially years more to come involving funding, administration, inclusive and equitable treatment of the refugees and host populations, and national security issues, among others.
There is a need for a ‘pilot repatriation project’ to send back refugees where both the countries have historical experience and references to repatriate Rohingyas.
(To be contd)