Update August 24, 2020

Dhaka 10-48 pm, 21-September, 2020

Bangladesh wants to begin initial transfer of Rohingyas to Bhasan Char: FS

Mirajul Moin Joy

Bangladesh wants to start the initial transfer of Rohingyas to Bhasan Char Island after monsoon through conducting a “go-and-see” visit programme first.

“We’ll soon conduct a go-and-see visit [programme] for relatives of sheltered Rohingyas and other representatives (in Bhasan Char),” said Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen on Monday.

If they find the place better than the cramped camps in Cox’s Bazar, he said, they expect to commence initial transfer of Rohingyas there after the Monsoon season.

Some 306 Rohingyas rescued in the Bay of Bengal and sheltered in the Island are doing well, said the Foreign Secretary.

He said the UN teams are expected to visit Bhashan Char and prepare UN System’s assistance response.

“We may also arrange visit of human rights groups and select media to appreciate the facilities created,” said the Foreign Secretary.

The Foreign Secretary said the UN team may also visit and the government can arrange more visits for the human rights workers and media people.

The government has invested a lot for infrastructure development in the island to accommodate 1 lakh Rohingyas there.

Momen highlighted the lack of a conducive environment in Myanmar and two failed repatriation attempts as Rohingyas are not feeling comfortable with the environment in Rakhine.

He urged countries to convince Myanmar to bring changes in Rakhine and implement the repatriation arrangements.

The Foreign Secretary was addressing a webinar titled “The Rohingya Crisis: Western, Asian, and Bilateral Perspectives” organised by the Center for Peace Studies (CPS) of South Asian Institute of Policy and Governance (SIPG), North South University, Bangladesh in partnership with the High Commission of Canada to Bangladesh.

It dealt with some of the key issues related to bilateral, multilateral, and regional relations.

The purpose of this event was to generate ideas and share opinions and perspectives with the hope of finding a solution to the Rohingya crisis.

Dr. Syed Hamid Albar, former Foreign Minister of Malaysia, Earl R. Miller, US Ambassador to Bangladesh, Md. Shahidul Haque, Senior Fellow, South Asian Institute of Policy and Governance (SIPG), NSU, Benoit Préfontaine, High Commissioner of Canada to Bangladesh also spoke at the event.

Foreign Secretary Masud said the powerful cyclone Amphan has attested to the durability of the island and quality of the structures built.

“Detractors should now stop their propaganda on Bhasan Char and examine how to relieve pressure off from the highly congested Cox’s Bazar area where locals are outnumbered at a ratio of 2:1,” he said.

Third Country Resettlement

The Foreign Secretary said the third country resettlement (TCR) as an alternative to Bhashan Char relocation is a welcome thought.

Given the past experience of TCR globally in recent years, this cannot be a serious option, other than some countries getting the satisfaction of offering something new, he said.

“If a group of countries can jointly offer to take over half a million Rohingyas in a time span of 1-2 years, we may consider examining it,” said the Foreign Secretary.

Situation in Rakhine

Foreign Secretary Masud said they are now faced with a strategy on part of Myanmar authorities to do nothing to restore normalcy in Rakhine, but to create difficulty for prospective returnees and finally to do whatever needed to frustrate efforts to repatriation.

With the recent clearance operations by Tatmadaw against the Arakan Army in Rakhine and the election in November, he said they have actually hit an impasse in terms of repatriation process.

“Given the enormity of challenges associated with longer-term stay on foreign soils, I would rather demand the international community to refocus on the creation of basic services, safety and security and options for livelihood for returnees,” said the Foreign Secretary.

He said the international community should make sincere and greater efforts to secure conditions for Rohingyas to return to Myanmar and reintegrate into Myanmar society, with a clear pathway to citizenship.

“As we mark three years of forcible displacement of majority of Rohingya from their places of origin, these should be our pledge to the community that was subjected to well-planned machinations to destroy their identity,” he said.

Myanmar’s Failure

Foreign Secretary Masud said Bangladesh has always stayed away from Myanmar’s internal difficulties and challenges in the spirit of Foreign Policy dictum of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman “Friendship to all, malice towards none”.

“I must, however, be honest that Myanmar has generally failed to appreciate such a friendly approach and exhibited nonchalance to persistent overtures of friendship to develop sectoral cooperation and friendly people-to-people contacts,” he said.

Also read: Myanmar urged to ensure Rohingya participation in polls

Masud said Bangladesh’s overall approach to the Rohingya issue must be analysed in this overall context.

Approach to repatriation of Rohingyas, Bangladesh from the very beginning tried to find a peaceful solution to the Rohingya crisis through bilateral consultation.

“We engaged Myanmar early for sustainable repatriation in an environment of safety, security and dignity. As such, bilaterally agreed Framework Arrangement and other instruments for repatriation are anchored in the restoration of normalcy, creation of basic conditions for lives and livelihood as well as voluntariness,” he said.

At Myanmar’s insistence and the encouragement of a few other countries, the Foreign Secretary said Bangladesh tried repatriation twice.

“Failure of these efforts attest to the fact that Rohingyas do not feel comfortable in the prevailing condition, which don’t make returnees convinced of the sincerity of the Myanmar authorities and also of the majority community- Buddhists of Rakhine,” he said.

Bangladesh expect friends of Myanmar and other countries in the region to convince Myanmar of the imperative to make material changes in Rakhine- security-wise, economically and politically.

Instead, the Foreign Secretary said many international interlocutors are found trying to appease Myanmar while heaping all their demands on the doorstep of Bangladesh, the second victim of the Rohingya crisis.

“We expect international partners to come forward to convince Myanmar to change course and to play their roles as agreed with Myanmar at paragraph 14 of the Framework Arrangement,” he said.

The conditions of refugees in Bangladesh and efforts to keep them safe and productive

Bangladesh has been trying to improve conditions of the camp-dwellers to the maximum extent possible, he said.

No Local Integration

The Foreign Secretary said Bangladesh would certainly not prefer investments which will directly or indirectly prolong the refugee situation and create greater and newer pull factors for remaining Rohingyas inside Rakhine.

He said Bangladesh government rejects any notion of local integration. “We would expect interested partners to talk to Myanmar government and make such long-term investments on health, education, livelihood, connectivity for Rohingyas in northern Rakhine. So far, we discern no such efforts for remaining Rohingyas inside Rakhine,” he added.

Myanmar has not taken a single Rohingya back till today despite the crisis enters the fourth year within a couple of days amid “lack of conducive conditions” in Rakhine required for a safe and sustainable return of Rohingyas, officials said.

Also read: Three years in review: No end in sight to Rohingya crisis

In August 2017, the military launched a campaign of mass atrocities against the Rohingya that forced over 740,000 to flee to Bangladesh.

The 600,000 Rohingya who remain in Rakhine State are essentially confined to camps and villages, said the Human Rights Watch (HRW).

They remain without citizenship or the ability to vote this November.

Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, will be a candidate in the November general election.

Bangladesh is now hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas and most of them entered the country since August 25, 2017. Bangladesh and Myanmar signed the repatriation deal on November 23, 2017.

On January 16, 2018, Bangladesh and Myanmar inked a document on “Physical Arrangement”, which was supposed to facilitate the return of Rohingyas to their homeland.

The “Physical Arrangement” stipulated that the repatriation would be completed preferably within two years from the start.

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