Bangladesh minister meets interfaith group over Rohingya

Religious leaders have a role in securing safety guarantees for refugees returning to Myanmar
Bangladesh minister meets interfaith group over Rohingya

Rohingya refugees carry a cement structure for construction at the Kutupalong camp in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh on Aug. 13. The refugees want safety guarantees before being repatriated to Myanmar. (Photo by Chandar Khanna/AFP)

The vexed issue of how best to protect Rohingya refugees being repatriated was at the center of a meeting between Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali and Myanmar interfaith leaders.

Nyunt Mg Shein, vice-president of Myanmar's interfaith dialogue group, said the 90-minute Aug. 12 meeting discussed collaboration on rehabilitation and reintegration programs.

He said the minister is planning to bring Myanmar's religious leaders to refugee camps in Bangladesh to observe the situation there and convey their observations to the government of Myanmar.

"What I am understanding is that we need to play a role among the two governments and refugees in Bangladesh," Nyunt Mg Shein told ucanews.com.

He added that Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali would need to first discuss details with his government colleagues in Bangladesh.

Mg Shein hopes that the visit of the Bangladesh minister, and the recent bilateral agreement, will help speed up repatriation efforts.

"As religious leaders, we have no power, but we can pave the way towards peace and reconciliation," said Mg Shein, who is also chairman of Myanmar's Islamic Religious Affairs Council.

On May 27, six international and local religious leaders, including Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, were taken to Maungdaw township in Myanmar's Rakhine State to inspect transit camps and meet with members of local communities.

The delegation said that from the air they saw hundreds of Rohingya villages destroyed during Myanmar military operations against Rohingya militants since August last year.

More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh to avoid the military crackdown dubbed ethnic cleansing by the United Nations.

On May 24, international group Religions for Peace sent an open letter to people in Myanmar on their commitment to peace and reconciliation in a country still experiencing myriad internal conflicts.       

The letter specifically urged that priority be given to achieving peace, development, educational opportunities and respect for human rights for all communities in Rakhine State.

The Bangladesh foreign minister concluded a four-day visit to Myanmar after his team went to Rakhine on Aug. 11.

Bangladesh and Myanmar reached an eight-point agreement during a meeting in Naypyitaw on Aug. 10 covering matters such as early repatriation of refugees and a hotline to be established between respective ministers.

The agreement also deals with the practicalities of distributing verification forms for would-be returnees as well as arrangements for joint border inspections.

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"Myanmar particularly requested Bangladesh to stop providing humanitarian assistance to those people and proposed to arrange for the supply of humanitarian assistance from the Myanmar side," the Bangladesh foreign ministry said in a statement.

No timetable has yet been fixed for repatriation of the Rohingya refugees.

Rights groups have called for the voluntary, safe and dignified repatriation of Rohingya refugees that guarantees them Myanmar citizenship and the return of homes and other property as well as security and protection of their basic rights.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a repatriation deal last November. The process was due to begin in January but Bangladesh postponed it, citing a lack of preparations on its behalf.

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