The Facade Of Repatriation For The Rohingyas



The 680,000 Rohingyas escaping from the jaws of death in Myanmar, to Bangladesh, were recovering from their traumatic experience, when the news of an agreement finalized by the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh, caused a lot of concern and depression among them. Firstly, apart from the main “Citizenship” factor and unreasonable “verification procedure”, the humanitarian aspect was completely neglected; the new agreement 2017 (based on agreements of 1992-93), indicates nothing about the continuation of nutritional program and health support, for a large number of, malnutritioned children, pregnant and lactating mothers, victims of rape and, the very elderly men, recovering from various wounds; secondly, attitude towards the Rohingyas have not changed; the government and citizen avoid using the term “Rohingya” and use degraded adjective “kalar” to describe them; thirdly, the exclusion of the UNHCR and other international agencies, confirms that there is no guarantee for their security and safety of their lives and property. Where are they returning to? On a 124-acre land at Hla Pho Khung camp near Maungdaw township where 30,000 people will be accommodated in 625 prefab buildings i.e. 80-84 people per building, will be cramped in like animals in a pen. Perimeter of this complex will be surrounded by wire mesh fence topped by barbed wire.

Under the above circumstances, the Rohingyas have pleaded to Bangladesh authorities “kill us here (camps), rather than send us back to uncertainty and, possibility of another holocaust and, be buried inside mass grave”–dead men tell no tales. From the Palong Khali camp (on bank of river Naf) bordering Myanmar, Rohingya leaders, using loudspeakers have voiced their strongest protest for Myanmar to hear. Rohingya organizations, worldwide, in a joint statement have shared the “serious concerns” on the plans, for the repatriation, have drawn attention of the heads of governments, with request to pressurize Myanmar, to ensure a congenial environment and revise the agreement, for their safe return under aegis of UNHCR.

It is difficult to fathom the intention and actions, of Myanmar. 0n the one hand, they are showing positive signs, like removing and placing in reserve, Major General Maung Maung Soe(Army) and Brigadier Thura San Lwin(Border Guard),both in charge of Rakhine state during counter action against the insurgents, and responsible for “excessive force and clearance operation”; the President, on 70th anniversary of independence, calling for reforms of nation’s military-drafted constitution(a point highlighted by late U Ko Ni); and Suu Kyi initiating the Union Enterprises for Humanitarian Assistance for Rakhine state. 0n the other hand, they are not making it clear, whether the changes, will affect, both the Rohingyas and the Rakhine Buddhists. Point to be noted, in Rakhine state both Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingyas co-existed but, after the mayhem of the Rohingyas and burning of their villages, the areas occupied by Rohingyas is deserted and is declared” devastated area “. As per state law, land is now owned by the government, with the sole discretionary power to use as it pleases. Rakhine Buddhist land remains intact. Will Rohingyas get back their land and compensation for crops destroyed?

The UN Special Rapporteur Yang Lee recently banned from entering Myanmar, for continuing her work has said “I am puzzled and disappointed by this decision. This non-cooperation can be viewed as strong indication that something terribly awful is happening in Rakhine, as well as the rest of the country.” Lee’s comments, widely accepted internationally , can be corroborated by two facts: (1) the Myanmar government has stubbornly denied access to UN aid agencies, media, and visiting dignitaries amidst specter of more mass graves, like the one discovered on December,18,2017 at village Inn Din and, Lt.General Aye Win, this time, admitted that the 10 Rohingya bodies were first mutilated by civil vigilantes and next, together with army, buried them in the grave- this an important admission, considering that, the same general, in his earlier investigative report, has confirmed that there is no “evidence of atrocities”; recently The Associated Press reported of at least five mass graves containing bodies of Rohingya civilian Muslims- again denied by government (2) a network of government spies and informers are vigilant throughout the country, specifically in Rakhine state area, ensuring censorship over media, control over movement of international and local personnel. Ministry of Communication, citing police confirmed that two Reuter’s reporters were arrested for possessing “important and secret government documents related to Rakhine state and security forces”. Also two police officers, arrested for supplying the documents, under government’s “0fficial Secret Act”. All this to ensure government is not threatened.

The Tatmadaw failed to heed the warning from the Kofi Anan Commission to Myanmar that, “excessive army operation to counter the terrorists would make matters worse”;-and so it happened, and of its handling, human rights critics say, “ Sku Kyi and her government are still burying their heads in the sand over the horrors unfolding in the Rakhine state”– this is confirmed, by Myanmar informing on February 2018, the UN Security members, “time is not right to visit”, requesting postponement till March/April 2018. Is Myanmar hoping that strong stench from dead bodies and tracks of other irregularities will be covered by then? It is time to stop manipulation of Rohingya crisis.

A ten member Rakhine Crisis Advisory Board was constituted by Myanmar to reassess the implementation of the recommendations made by the Kofi Anan Commission. Its Chairman Surakiart Sathirathri, former Thai foreign minister, parroted the notion that international aid agencies provided material support for the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).Its other member Roelof Petrus Meyer from South Africa says, “the team was taken on an orientation trip to Rakhine state including repatriation centers, but it is difficult to opine from such general observation, but citizenship issue is complicated”. Bill Richardson (former US diplomat) also a member, termed this commission a “white wash”. Recommendations for solution to Myanmar crisis, stipulated in the Kofi Anan Commission report ,as per the co-founder of Thailand based Fortify Rights, is “a rare exception in that, it produced actionable suggestions and criticism of government policies.” It received worldwide acceptance and all, urged government for its quick implementation.

Myanmar seriously needs to get rid of its “cynical attitude” and “islamophobia hyperbole”. It must get rid of the delusion that its manipulative reports against the Rohingyas are having a ripple effect. ARSA has been severely criticized worldwide, even by Muslim countries. At same time, the world leaders do not agree that 4% family oriented Rohingyas, would become a threat for the over 89 % Bamar Buddhists, that forms the government, military, police and “chauvinistic” religious groups. Leaders throughout world have called for arms embargo and targeted sanctions against Myanmar.

It is high time for Myanmar and its friendly partners, China, India and Russia, to take into cognizance the facts at hand and form the right environment by solving the main problems within Myanmar :-

  1. Peace and national reconciliation with 135 ethnic groups in spirit of 1947 Panlong agreement. The recent January 19, 2018 conflict between tatmadaw and KIA (powerful militant) confirms government has to “go the extra mile” to solve it.
  2. Citizenship of Rohingyas for which dialogues must be opened with British government to scrutinize Aung San- Atlee agreement, 1947 and Burma’s constitution of 1947 and 1948 as parliaments of those years have honored Rohingya citizenship.
  3. Establish democracy, as the President mentioned, by reforming the military drafted constitution.
  4. Revise repatriation plan taking into account all humanitarian aspects describe above.

Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize winner in Economics, 2001 said, “Our global system is characterized by a lot of inequities. It seems increasingly important to try to redress these inequities.” Let us hope Myanmar will do it.

Badrul Islam is a Freelancer and Political Analyst. He previously worked for Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority and United Nations Agencies in Bangladesh, Somalia and Uganda. He can be reached at [email protected]

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