Asia - Pacific

‘Any repatriation process must take Rohingya on board’

Rohingya community leaders wary of China’s involvement in process, terming it half-hearted

Riyaz Ul Khaliq, Zuhal Demirci   | 25.01.2021
‘Any repatriation process must take Rohingya on board’


The Rohingya community must be taken on board in any repatriation process to Myanmar and problems concerning their basic rights including citizenship should be resolved beforehand, the community’s leaders demanded.

The persecuted community is also wary of China’s involvement in the process unless the Rohingya are consulted and Myanmar is pushed to prepare the grounds for their return.

“The Rohingya want to go home as early as possible… [However,] Myanmar did not create a conducive environment, nor is there any evidence that indicates a change of attitude,” Hla Myint, a senior member of the Arakan Rohingya National Organization (ARNO), told Anadolu Agency in an interview.

Last week, Myanmar agreed to calls by Bangladesh at a tripartite meeting facilitated by China to start the much-awaited repatriation of Rohingya in the second quarter of this year.

Bangladesh has pushed hard to begin the repatriation, but Myanmar has been delaying it, seeking time for logistical arrangements.

“Myanmar tries to foil the [repatriation] process through delaying tactics,” Myint confirmed, adding the Buddhist-majority country had assented in earlier agreements to repatriate the Rohingya refugees but failed.

Referring to China’s recent steps to facilitate the repatriation, he said the economic ties between China and Myanmar mean that “international crimes can continue unabated because profit is placed before people.”

“China is a regional superpower, economic tiger and neighbor of Myanmar. It has invested heavily in Myanmar. Its projects in Myanmar are not only economically important, but it is geo-politically very crucial,” he said.

However, he said “China can play a role in a transparent and inclusive mediation process and it can also address the Rohingya citizenship issue. But that is a big 'if'.”

‘Choice between two bad situations’

Kyaw Win, executive director of the Burma Human Rights Network, described the current steps taken for repatriation as a “very bad tool for resettlement.”

“We are concerned that some Rohingya feel pressured to return because the conditions of the camps are inadequate or because they fear Bangladesh may force them to go to the camps on Bhasan Char island,” Win said.

Bangladesh is shifting Rohingya to far off Bhasan Char island from its Cox’s Bazaar settlement, where they have been living in camps ever since they fled genocide crimes in Rakhine state in 2016 and 2017.

“Forcing the Rohingya to choose between two bad situations is a very bad tool for resettlement, and it will do nothing to prevent future waves of refugees from returning if the human rights situation in Burma is not addressed,” he added, referring to another name for Myanmar.

- ‘Citizenship rights precede repatriation’

“No refugees will agree to be repatriated without assurance of full citizenship, ethnic rights to settle back [in Myanmar],” said Nay San Lwin, who co-founded the Free Rohingya Coalition.

“We also have a great deal of concern regarding Burma's continued use of the National Verification Card [NVC] process which denies Rohingya citizenship and full rights,” he said.

“Until Burma [Myanmar] moves to grant Rohingya full citizenship and allows them to return to their original villages, repatriation cannot possibly be equitable,” Lwin emphasized.

Hla Myint of ARNO echoed Lwin’s sentiments.

“The verification techniques, NVC, resettling them in segregated camps rather than resettling in their place of origin and above all denying their ethnic and citizenship rights will be the major obstacles in the repatriation.

“It is unclear how the process might move forward, but the inclusion of other countries, transparency and involvement of the Rohingya refugees is of utmost necessary,” Myint said.

He argued that there were no changes in the policies of Myanmar towards Rohingya.

“They have excluded us from the recent election, [and Myanmar] continued its genocidal purge and has forcibly moved us into IDP camps since 2012,” he added.

He said the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees and other displaced people to their homes or to a place of their choosing “should be the baseline of repatriation, and Myanmar should act to reflect that on the ground.”

Lwin argued that Myanmar had just verified 42,000 – only 5% -- among the list of 840,000 refugees provided by Bangladesh.

“As a first step, all refugees must be verified. Myanmar must build houses for returnees in their original villages. These two are the first things Myanmar must do before repatriation begins,” he noted.

“No one should live in a so-called transit camp even for a day or two. Myanmar's plan is to hand the returnees National Verification Cards at the reception centers and take them to so-called transit camps.”

Lwin said Myanmar must “stop forcing the Rohingya to accept the NVC, also called by the Rohingya community the “genocide card.”

Role of China worries Rohingya

Win said China has offered COVID-19 vaccines to those who returned home, “but otherwise, we fear that their role is to expedite a flawed solution to a deeply rooted problem in Burma.”

“Fundamentally, their approach is flawed because they are seeking to be a mediator while excluding the party [Rohingya] that was harmed from negotiations,” said Win.

He said China “seems to simply want the problem to go away, but like too much of the world, they are not as concerned with why it happened and if it will occur again.”

Referring to excesses committed by China in its Uighur-dominated Xinjiang region, Win said “because of China's own genocide against the Uighur people in East Turkistan, it is hard to imagine they could be a reliable mediator for the Rohingya.”

High-handed abuses of the basic rights of Uighurs, many of whom call Xinjiang “East Turkistan,” have invited sharp criticism of China. Earlier this month, the US said Beijing committed genocide of the victim community and Washington even sanctioned some goods coming from the western region of China.

Free Rohingya Coalition leader Lwin said China was a good ally of Myanmar and “is trying to ease the pressure on Myanmar from the international community.”

“We are very cautious of involving China as a mediator in this process. Both China and Myanmar are perpetrators of genocide. We can't trust both,” he said, urging “the entire international community to get involved in this process.”

“We want international protection in our homeland so the violence won't repeat again. Going back to our homeland without international protection is going back to the killing fields again,” he said.

Myint said the Rohingya community hopes that Myanmar will have a “change of heart towards them and will work toward an inclusive, democratic, federal country where justice and equality prevail.”

However, he said the Rohingya do not expect much from the fresh repatriation process.

“We fear that repatriating the Rohingya without ensuring their rights and security and forcing them to accept the NVC will further prolong their suffering,” he warned.

Persecuted people

The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.

According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017, pushing the number of persecuted people in Bangladesh above 1.2 million.

Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).

More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the OIDA report, titled Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience.

As many as 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police and over 115,000 Rohingya homes were burned down while 113,000 others were vandalized, it added.

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