Won’t do anything by force: FM about Rohingya repatriation

Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen. File photo

Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen on Thursday said Bangladesh does not want to do anything by force and laid emphasis on removing trust-deficit among Rohingyas who refused to return to their homeland.

“It’s regrettable… what else you can do!” the Foreign Minister said while talking to a small group of reporters at his office.

Dr Momen said there is a trust-deficit among Rohingyas and reiterated Bangladesh’s call to take 100 “majhis” or Rohingya leaders to Rakhine State, and show them what measures and arrangements are taken to welcome Rohingyas to their own homes as they fear about their safety and security.

The Foreign Minister said he is thinking about forming a commission with people from various countries to go and see the development in Rakhine and inspect whether peace and stability are prevailing there or not with required steps.

“Myanmar should prove that development is there and peace is prevailing,” he said adding that Myanmar can also take journalists there to see the situation on the ground.

Dr Momen said Myanmar should come forward if they remain honest and should give access to Rakhine to see the situation there.

Responding to a question about Rohingyas’ demands, the Foreign Minister said they cannot be hostage to their demands. “They (Rohingya) need to realise their demands by going back to their homes.”

Dr Momen said they were hoping that the repatriation would begin today (Thursday), at least on a small scale, but it’s yet to begin.

“We’re still waiting with a high hope. Myanmar has created the problem and solution lies there, too. We don’t want to do anything by force,” he said adding that representatives of Myanmar, China and Bangladesh governments were present there.

Responding to another question, Dr Momen said they will identify those distributing leaflets, supplying English-written signboards and carrying out campaigns encouraging Rohingyas not to return to Myanmar. “We’re identifying them,” he said adding that steps will be taken.

He indicated about slower fund flow — both from locally and internationally — which might create problems for the Rohingyas though they are living a comfortable life now. “For their own better future, they should go back.”

The Foreign Minister said their efforts will continue for voluntary and safe return of Rogingyas to their place of origin.

Responding to a question, he said there are both positive and negative aspects of welcoming Rohingyas in 2017, and Myanmar did never say they will not take back their nationals.

Despite all the preparations, no Rohingya turned up on Thursday to avail of the “voluntary” repatriation offer given to them to go back to their place of origin in Rakhine State of Myanmar prompting the authorities to suspend the repatriation process for the day.

While briefing reporters, Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam said they interviewed the listed Rohingyas over the last couple of days and encouraged them to return to their homeland.

But nobody did show up at Ghumdhum transit point on Thursday, he said adding that five buses were kept ready to take the Rohingyas to Myanmar’s Rakhine State, their place of origin.

Bangladesh is now hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas and most of them entered the country since August 25, 2017. The two countries signed a repatriation deal on November 23, 2017, but there has been little progress.

On July 29, Bangladesh handed a fresh list of 25,000 Rohingyas from around 6,000 families to Myanmar for verification before their repatriation to Rakhine State.

With the latest list, Bangladesh has so far handed the names of around 55,000 Rohingyas to the Myanmar authorities and around 8,000 of them have been verified. Myanmar only cleared 3,450 Rohingyas for beginning the repatriation.

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” stipulates that the repatriation will be completed preferably within two years from the start.

The first batch of Rohingyas was scheduled to return on November 15 last year but it was halted amid the unwillingness of Rohingyas to go back for lack of a congenial environment in Rakhine.

On August 20, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen said both Bangladesh and Myanmar were“fully ready” to resume the repatriation of Rohingyas to their homeland but some Rohingya leaders and NGOs are reportedly discouraging them to return.

“We’ve heard some Rohingya leaders emerged there. They don’t want the return of any Rohingya (to their homeland). They’re trying to stop returnees. Some INGOs and NGOs are instigating them (Rohingyas),” he told a small group of reporters at his office.

He said Bangladesh wants to see Rohingyas’ return to Rakhine State as soon as possible.