China agrees to help Rohingya repatriation

Myanmar and Bangladesh reportedly working with Beijing to ensure safe return for Muslim refugees
China agrees to help Rohingya repatriation

A Rohingya refugee youth looks at cellphones in a shop in a market area of the Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia, Bangladesh, on Sept. 13. Cut off from mobile internet services and with Bangladeshi police seizing their SIM cards, desperate Rohingya refugees are sneaking out of their camps to buy black market cards and top up credit. (Photo by Munir Uz Zaman/AFP)

Myanmar, Bangladesh and China have agreed to set up a tripartite working mechanism to move forward the repatriation of thousands of Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh.

Myanmar’s Minister of the State Counselor’s Office Kyaw Tint Swe, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held a meeting informally on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Sept. 24.

They agreed to establish a joint working group to be responsible for the implementation of Rohingya repatriation, according to media reports.

And they have decided that strong political will and an improvement in the economic situation of conflict-torn Rakhine State to promote stability are needed to solve the issues.

Christine Schraner Burgener, the U.N. special envoy to Myanmar, also attended the New York meeting, which followed the delayed process of repatriation of thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled Rakhine in August 2017.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia head at Human Rights Watch, said that by formally inviting China into a planning process for repatriation of the Rohingya, Bangladesh has recognized it needs an ally to overcome Myanmar’s resistance to ensuring conditions are suitable for the refugees’ safe return.

He said two planned repatriations have foundered because Myanmar failed to make guarantees the Rohingya say they need on citizenship, monitoring and protection, a return to home areas, freedom of movement and access to services.

“It will be interesting to see if China’s increased clout in the Asian region can deliver positive changes in Myanmar’s attitudes that everyone can welcome,” Robertson told

Kyaw Min, chairman of the Yangon-based Human Rights and Democracy Party, which fights for Rohingya rights, said successful repatriation is unlikely if conditions in Rakhine are not conducive for a safe return, whether or not China helps.

“The key thing is to dialogue with the Myanmar government and the Rohingya refugees who fled from Rakhine to negotiate over their demands,” Kyaw Min told

He added that Myanmar’s government is responsible for creating conditions for the dignified return of thousands of Rohingya and a third party like the U.N. or the United States (not China) needs to play a role to guarantee safe repatriation.

A second attempt to repatriate 3,540 Rohingya from three camps in Cox’s Bazar district on Aug. 22 failed after the refugees refused to return unconditionally to Myanmar.

The attempt came only days before the second anniversary on Aug. 25 of the military crackdown in Rakhine that forced more than 742,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.

Rohingya in the camps have called on Myanmar’s government to grant full citizenship rights and to guarantee their safety in Rakhine before they agree to return under a repatriation agreement that Myanmar and Bangladesh signed in November 2017.

Myanmar’s government regards the Rohingya as “Bengalis.” By not recognizing the term “Rohingya,” the government has implied that they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh despite vast numbers of them having lived in Myanmar for decades.

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