JWG on Rohingya repatriation meets in Myanmar tomorrow
A 14-member delegation headed by Foreign Secretary Mohammad Shahidul Haque will fly to Myanmar capital today (Sunday) to attend the first meeting of the Joint Working Group (JWG) on Monday.
An agreement on 'physical arrangement' to start the repatriation of Rohingyas sheltered in Bangladesh is likely to be finalised in the meeting.
"Although both the sides have agreed and settled some issues regarding the repatriation, still there are many gray areas. However, we are hopeful to minimise it," a senior official of the Foreign Ministry told the Daily Observer on Saturday.
Despite challenges, Bangladesh officials said, they are on track in terms of timeframe mentioned in the bilateral document signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar on November 22-23.
According to the official, Bangladesh delegation will hand over a list of 100,000 displaced Rohingyas. "Once they (Myanmar) scrutinise and send back the list, we will send the next list," the official added.
Meanwhile, the Myanmar authorities plan to bring back 450 Hindu Rohingya refugees in the first phase of the repatriation process that was agreed with the Bangladesh side last week, reports Myanmar state-owned Global New Light of Myanmar.
Myanmar Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Win Myat Aye told the newspaper that a group of 450 Hindu refugees would be allowed back across the border to Myanmar on January 22 as the first step in the repatriation process.
A refugee camp has been set up at Taungpyoleiwei in northwestern Rakhine state for those returning overland from Bangladesh, while a second camp has been erected in Ngakhuya, Maungdaw township for those returning by sea or waterways.
India recently announced a development assistance of $25 million for Myanmar's Rakhine State, from where thousands of Rohingya Muslims recently fled their homeland amid violence against them. The Japanese government also announced a grant of $3 million to Myanmar's government to help facilitate the repatriation of the Rohingyas.
"A database containing the names of 850,000 Rohingya refugees has already been created in finalizing a specific bilateral instrument for the physical arrangements involved in the return of the Rohingya," a Foreign Ministry official said.
Another official engaged in the Rohingya repatriation process claimed that both Bangladesh and Myanmar are under pressure regarding the repatriation of the displaced Rohingyas.
"Bangladesh is under pressure over the fact that the Rohingya population is posing a significant threat to the country's internal security, social structure and environment. Alongside, the next national election is scheduled in 2018, so the government is making a serious effort to send back as many Rohingyas as possible.
"On the other hand, Myanmar is also facing a lot of international pressure and it wants to start the repatriation process to show its willingness over the issue," the official said, adding that Bangladesh, Myanmar, and the Rohingyas are part of a geopolitical chess game.
According to the repatriation deal signed by the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar on November 23, only the Rohingyas, who entered Bangladesh after 2016, will be eligible for repatriation. So, there is no chance to discuss about those Rohingyas who entered before 2016. According to UNHCH, the number is around 2 to 5 lakh.
Foreign Ministry sources said the instrument will contain details about field level activities that would be crucial for the repatriation process, the arrangement will also have details such as the border crossing points that will be used by the Rohingyas to return home, the camps that will be used to shelter the returning refugees, and where they will stay after returning to Myanmar.
"Developments had been made as regards the preparations for the resettlement and rehabilitation. Those who will enter will stay in temporary camp for one or two days. After that, as for those who already had their own houses, they can go directly to their houses. As for those whose houses were burnt down in the attacks, they must stay temporarily in the 8-room-house barracks," the Myanmar minister said.
"During the stay the new arrivals can make money by working in construction sites under the plan 'Cash for Work'. Co-operations are being made in combination with respective ministries, donor companies and members of regions and states for accepting the arrivals in time," he added.
Meanwhile, UNHCR recently said that Rohingyas want to see a positive development including citizenship, security, and scope for enjoying their basic rights before they return to their country from Bangladesh.
Despite all these issues, Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali hopes that there will be a new beginning with Myanmar through Rohingya repatriation. He admitted that the issue of Rohingya influx with Myanmar has remained as an irritant in bilateral relations between the two countries.