Thursday October 24, 2019
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Rohingyas Repatriation to Myanmar Scrapped by Bangladesh

Negotiations for repatriation have been in the works for months.

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An elderly Rohingya refugee holds a placard during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, in Bangladesh.VOA

Bangladesh’s plans to begin repatriating Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar Thursday were scrapped because officials were unable to find anyone who wanted to return to the country that has been accused of driving out hundreds of thousands in a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

The refugees “are not willing to go back now,” Refugee Commissioner Abul Kalam told The Associated Press. He said officials “can’t force them to go” but will continue to try to “motivate them so it happens.”

Some people on the government’s repatriation list disappeared into the sprawling refugee camps to avoid being sent home, while others joined a large demonstration against the plan.

Rohingya, myanmar
Workers build a Rohingya repatriation center in Gunndum near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. VOA

UN urged a halt to repatriation

More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh from western Myanmar’s Rakhine state since August 2017 to escape killings and destruction of their villages by the military and Buddhist vigilantes that have drawn widespread condemnation of Myanmar.

The United Nations, whose human rights officials had urged Bangladesh to halt the repatriation process even as its refugee agency workers helped to facilitate it, welcomed Thursday’s development.

Firas Al-Khateeb, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Cox’s Bazar, said it was unclear when the process might begin again.

“We want their repatriation, but it has to be voluntary, safe and smooth,” he said.

Bangladesh officials declined to say whether another attempt at repatriation would be made Friday.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali told reporters in Dhaka late Thursday that “there is no question of forcible repatriation. We gave them shelter, so why should we send them back forcibly?”

Rohingya, myanmar
Rohingya refugee children shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

Pleading with Rohingya

At the Unchiprang refugee camp, a Bangladeshi refugee official implored the Rohingya on Thursday to return to their country over a loudspeaker.

“We have arranged everything for you, we have six buses here, we have trucks, we have food. We want to offer everything to you. If you agree to go, we’ll take you to the border, to the transit camp,” he said.

“We won’t go!” hundreds of voices, including children’s, chanted in reply.

Some refugees on the repatriation lists, which authorities say were drawn up with assistance from the UNHCR, said they don’t want to go back.

‘I don’t want to go back’

At the Jamtoli refugee camp, one of the sprawling refugee settlements near the city of Cox’s Bazar, 25-year-old Setara said she and her two children, age 4 and 7, were on a repatriation list, but her parents were not. She said she had never asked to return to Myanmar, and that she had sent her children to a school run by aid workers Thursday morning as usual.

“They killed my husband; now I live here with my parents,” said Setara, who only gave one name. “I don’t want to go back.”

She said that other refugees on the repatriation list had fled to other camps, hoping to disappear amid the crowded lanes of refugees, aid workers and Bangladeshi soldiers, which on Thursday were bustling with commerce and other activity.

Rohingya, Myanmar
Rohingya refugees shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

Plan to return 150 a day

Bangladesh had planned to send an initial group of 2,251 back from mid-November at a rate of 150 per day.

Myanmar officials, speaking late Thursday in the capital, Naypyitaw, said they were ready to receive the refugees. Despite those assurances, human rights activists said conditions were not yet safe for the Rohingya to go back.

The exodus began after Myanmar security forces launched a brutal crackdown following attacks by an insurgent group on guard posts. The scale, organization and ferocity of the crackdown led the U.N. and several governments to accuse Myanmar of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Most people in Buddhist-majority Myanmar do not accept that the Rohingya Muslims are a native ethnic group, viewing them as “Bengalis” who entered illegally from Bangladesh, even though generations of Rohingya have lived in Myanmar. Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, as well as access to education and hospitals.

Rohingya, Myanmar
Rohingya refugees cross floodwaters at Thangkhali refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district. VOA

Refugee camps bleak

The refugees survived the ransacking of villages, rapes and killings in Myanmar, but for many, life in Bangladesh’s squalid refugee camps has been bleak.

The refugees who’ve arrived in the last year joined a wave of 250,000 Rohingya Muslims who escaped forced labor, religious persecution and violent attacks from Buddhist mobs in Myanmar during the early 1990s.

Access to education and employment has been far from assured.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who hopes to retain power in December elections, has repeatedly complained that hosting more than a million Rohingya is taxing local resources.

Negotiations for repatriation have been in the works for months, but plans last January to begin sending refugees back were called off amid concerns among aid workers and Rohingya that their return would be met with violence.

Foreign leaders, including U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, criticized Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi this week on the sidelines of a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Singapore for her handling of the Rohingya crisis.

Also Read: Rohingya Muslims Remain Fearful Due To Forceful Repatriation

But on Thursday, Pence said that U.S. officials were “encouraged to hear that” the repatriation process would begin.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country would continue working with international partners including the U.N. “to ensure that the Rohingya themselves are part of any decisions on their future.” (VOA)

Next Story

India’s Ties with Bangladesh at their Peak

In a caustic comment it said that while details of the lavish meals prepared for the Bangladeshi leader were enthusiastically reported

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India, Bangladesh, Prime Minister
A Bangaldeshi media report claimed that there was little information available in the public domain about the agreements. Pixabay

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina returned to Dhaka from a successful four-day visit to India last week having concluded seven agreements. But the agreements have caused unease among many in Bangladesh. Critics have panned the agreements as mainly advantageous to India and of little benefit to Bangladesh. Other commentators have called on the government to publish full details of the agreements.

India and Bangladesh signed seven agreements and MOUs on October 5, 2019 and a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) agreement for transportation of goods. The agreements include a pact for supply of LNG as well as water from Feni River to India, and for transportation of Indian goods through Chittagong and Mongla ports in Bangladesh to Tripura.

A Bangaldeshi media report claimed that there was little information available in the public domain about the agreements. In a caustic comment it said that while details of the lavish meals prepared for the Bangladeshi leader were enthusiastically reported on by the Bangladeshi media, there was no information on the nature of the agreements.

The agreements to provide connectivity were described as regional connectivity, but one critic termed them bilateral connectivity as they served Indian interests and had scant benefit for Bangladesh. “India certainly stands to benefit, but Bangladesh is yet to make a tangible assessment of its gains,” it said.

India, Bangladesh, Prime Minister
India and Bangladesh signed seven agreements and MOUs on October 5, 2019 and a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) agreement for transportation of goods. Pixabay

India’s smaller South Asian neighbours have often perceived New Delhi as exploitative for using its clout to negotiate one-sided agreements advantageous to India while ignoring its neighbours’ interests.

Sheikh Hasina defended her government’s decision to supply 1.82 cusecs of water from the Feni river to India for drinking water purposes as a very small amount of water.

“If someone asks for drinking water, how can we deny it?” she said.

Regarding the agreement to supply of LPG, she added that it was not CNG that Bangladesh would be selling to India, but LPG, which was a byproduct in the refining of oil. In 2001, the possibility of selling natural gas to India had become a major controversy in Bangladesh with Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League party objecting to the sale of a scarce resource.

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The agreement to supply Feni river water has rankled as there has been no movement on finding a resolution on the sharing of Teesta River waters. The criticism acquired a serious turn with the murder of a second year student of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology by fellow students for criticizing Sheikh Hasina and the agreements in a Facebook post. The students were allegedly members of the Chhatra League, the youth wing of the ruling Awami League party.

India’s ties with Bangladesh are at their peak, among the best of India’s relations with its South Asian neighbours. But the criticism of the agreements with India is evoking memories old irritations and suspicions.

There are several pending issues between India and Bangladesh such as the huge trade deficit and sharing of Teesta river waters. Dhaka has been remarkably patient over New Delhi’s problems in agreeing to a resolution on sharing of the river waters.

Sheikh Hasina’s government has accepted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assurance that he would work towards a satisfaction resolution to the ticklish issue. The main impediment on the Teesta issue is the stance of the Mamata Bannerjee-led West Bengal government.

India, Bangladesh, Prime Minister
The agreements include a pact for supply of LNG as well as water from Feni River to India, and for transportation of Indian goods through Chittagong and Mongla ports. Pixabay

The National Register of Citizens exercise in Assam with identification of illegal migrants has raised grave concern in Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina has accepted for now the Indian stance that it is an internal matter of India. But comments by Indian leaders about pushing out the foreigners have their ripples in Bangladesh which facile assurances do not alleviate.

Building trust between the two neighbours has been a slow and steady process that involved wiping away the mistrust and suspicion that that had plagued relations for long. The resolution of the sharing of the Ganga waters removed a major irritant in the ties.

Sometime later, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s assurance that Bangladesh territory would not be used for anti-India activities and its effective implementation became the first major step in building the trust. The resolution of the Land Boundary Agreement for demarcating the border was the second positive factor in generating trust and confidence. It created the environment for closer cooperation between the two countries. Both Dhaka and New Delhi have used the friendly environment to construct a cooperative relationship.

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New Delhi can easily lose that goodwill if the sentiment that India is uncaring and lackadaisical about issues of interest to Bangladesh begins to gain ground in Dhaka. New Delhi needs to be more sensitive to Dhaka’s concerns. It should speed up tackling the long pending issues before they build up into a major grievance in Bangladesh, which could make it difficult to implement already concluded agreements. (IANS)