Bangladesh has sought help from the US in pressurising Myanmar to offer safeguards for the return of thousands of Rohingya refugees who have fled the country since August 2017.
Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen sought the US assistance during a meeting on Monday with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington, the government of Bangladesh said in a statement on Tuesday.
During the meeting, Momen discussed the importance of “repatriation of Rohingyas and creation of credible international pressure on Myanmar in that respect”, the statement said.
According to the statement, Pompeo reiterated that the US “would stand beside Bangladesh (both politically and financially) in finding a permanent solution to the Rohingya crisis”, Efe news reported.
“It is the responsibility of the Myanmar government and military to create a conducive environment for Rohingyas to feel safe to return home,” he said.
Momen told Pompeo about Dhaka’s plans to transfer a group of Rohingya to the uninhabited Bhashanchar island in the Bay of Bengal. The island has been prepared to host 100,000 refugees from the overcrowded camps in the Cox’s Bazar district.
Over 738,000 Rohingyas have arrived in the camps since the beginning of the crisis on August 25, 2017, following a wave of violence and persecution, which has been described by the United Nations an attempted ethnic cleansing.
Most refugees of the majority-Muslim community live in harsh conditions in the Kutupalong camp — located near the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar. It has become the biggest refugee camp in the world.
Although Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an agreement on November 23, 2017, the repatriation attempts have failed due to absence of conditions necessary for safe and voluntary return of the refugees. (IANS)
The success of the “Border Haats” with Bangladesh has prompted other northeastern states of India to go for similar arrangements with Myanmar. At the instance of the Mizoram government, the Centre is likely to set up four “Border Haats” (market) along the border with Myanmar to boost local trade and livelihood of the people living there.
“To carry out border trade with Myanmar, the location for the construction of ‘Border Haat’ has been identified in four places — Hnahlan, Zote, Vaphai (Saikhumphai) and Sangau (Pangkhua) in southeastern Mizoram,” Mizoram Commerce and Industries Minister R. Lalthangliana told IANS.
The Minister said, “The success of the “Border Haats” running along the Bangladesh border in Meghalaya and Tripura has prompted us to go for similar ‘haats’ with Mynmar in Mizoram.”
Mizoram Commerce and Industries Department Director J. Hmingthanmawia said that the state government has sent the detailed proposals in this regard to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) for its approval.
“Once we get the green signal from the MEA, we would seek funds from the Union Industries and Commerce Ministry,” Hmingthanmawia told IANS. He said that officials of the Mizoram government and Myanmar have recently conducted a joint survey and identified the locations to set up the “Border Haats”.
Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga in his Independence Day speech had said that the proposed “Border Haats” would become important trade points between India and Myanmar.
“Land Custom Station (LCS) at Zokhawthar, the lone trade route for Mizoram with South East Asian countries, is being proposed for upgradation. Construction of Trade Facilitation Centre at Tlabung has already been completed.”
“The Indian government has also proposed construction of an Integrated Check Post (ICP) at four places at the border in Mizoram — Marpara, Tuipuibari, Silsuri and Nunsury. The construction of ICP at Kawrpuichhuah is also expected to commence shortly,” the Chief Minister added.
Mizoram has an unfenced international border of 404 km with Myanmar and 318 km with Bangladesh. The Border Security Force (BSF) has been guarding the Bangladesh border and Assam Rifles personnel are posted on the border with Myanmar.
Experts and various studies suggest that if the “Border Haats” are set up, smuggling of drugs and other commodities would be checked to a large extent. Security expert Manas Paul said that large-scale smuggling of drugs from Myanmar via Mizoram and other neighbouring states has increased in the last few years.
“What is really worrisome is the fact that these synthetic drugs have got a domestic market inside the state, especially among the younger generation. Cross border legal activities including setting up of “Border Haats” could curb the smuggling of drugs and other contraband,” Paul, who has authored books on security and terrorism in the northeast, told IANS.
The CUTS International, a Jaipur based international NGO, with support from the World Bank, had conducted a study in 2016 to understand and examine the effect of “Border Haats” on poverty alleviation and other multiplier effects such as informal trade.
CUTS International Executive Director Bipul Chatterjee said that trade will increase income, curb smuggling, and cross-border crimes will also go down.
“‘Border Haats’ have contributed to the border area development, roads have improved, trafficking of women has stopped, unemployment issues have been addressed,” said Chatterjee.
Currently four “Border Haats” are operational in Meghalaya and Tripura. The first “Border Haat” was started on July 23, 2011 at Kalaichar (India)-Kurigram (Bangladesh) in the West Garo Hills of Meghalaya. Three other “haats” followed in Meghalaya and Tripura.
The Union Industries and Commerce Ministry has been spending on an average Rs 3.5 crore to develop the infrastructure and necessary facilities for each “Border Haat” along the Bangladesh border. The Bangladesh government is not providing any funds for the purpose. (IANS)