Dhaka became ‘cautiously optimistic’ to start much-demanded Rohingya repatriation from May this year as Naypyidaw showed its flexibility to take back their nationals at today’s tripartite meeting among Bangladesh, China and Myanmar over the crisis.
“In diplomatic language, I can say – we are ‘cautiously optimistic’ (of starting repatriation by May) … we are sincerely engaged so that, at least, we can start the (repatriation) process,” foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen said here after the meeting.
The senior secretary, who led the Bangladesh delegation, was speaking at a press briefing at the Foreign Ministry after the 90-minute virtual tripartite meeting this afternoon.
Chinese vice minister Luo Zhaohui and Myanmar Deputy Minister of International Cooperation Hau Do Suan led the delegations of their respective countries at the meeting.
The first tripartite meeting among the foreign ministers of Bangladesh, China and Myanmar was held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York in 2019 while the last official level tripartite meeting on January last year.
The foreign secretary said Dhaka today first proposed starting the repatriation in the first quarter, but Myanmar said logistical arrangement would take some more time.
“So, we said we can do it in the second quarter,” he said, adding that the Myanmar side showed their flexibility about Dhaka’s proposal to start by second quarter of this year.
However, the secretary said that there were lots of factors to complete the repatriation process but “we would like to work with hope”.
Masud said Dhaka has proposed to start the repatriation as village by village or by cluster of village so that Rohingyas could get confidence to return back home with their known neighbours together.
But, the Myanmar side said they would like to start the repatriation with only those Rohingyas who have been verified.
However, the secretary said Myanmar didn’t outright reject Dhaka’s proposal over village based repatriation, they said they will consider it while the Chinese side comprehends the Dhaka’s logic regarding it.
He said Dhaka also urged Myanmar to expedite their Rohingya verification process as it seemed very slow.
Bangladesh has already handed over biometric data of 8,40,000 forcibly displaced Rohingyas to Myanmar authority while Naypyidaw so far verified only 42,000 biometric data out of 8.4 lakh.
Masud said both Myanmar and China have showed positivity regarding Dhaka’s proposal of keeping international community’s presence, including UN, India, Japan and ASEN countries, in Rakhine when Rohingya repatriation happens.
He said Dhaka also pushed hard Myanmar to ensure conducive environment inside Rakhine state to build confidence among the Rohingyas to go back to their land of origin.
“As we are determined to make volunteer repatriation, there is no alternative to creating conducive environment in Rakhine,” he said.
During today’s meeting, the foreign secretary said, they chalked out roadmap to start the repatriation process.
Under the roadmap, the next working group meeting between Bangladesh, China and Myanmar will be held next month and after that another foreign secretary level tripartite meeting mediating by China will be held in the same month.
After that, the foreign minister level tripartite meeting will be held in March or April to discuss any issue that may remain unsolved during the previous working group and foreign secretary level meetings.
Bangladesh is hosting over 1.1 million forcefully displaced Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar district and most of them arrived there since August 25, 2017 after a military crackdown by Myanmar, which the UN called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” by other rights groups.
In last three years, Myanmar did not take back a single Rohingya while the attempts of repatriation failed twice due to trust deficit among Rohingyas about their safety and security in the Rakhine state.