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Rohingya skeptical about repatriation deal

Myanmar and Bangladesh agree to their return, but the refugees want international monitors to oversee the process

Rohingya skeptical about repatriation deal

This file photo taken on Oct. 9 shows a Rohingya woman refugee holding a child while crossing the Naf river from Myanmar into Bangladesh. (Photo by Fred Dufour/AFP)

Stephan Uttom, Dhaka and John Zaw, Mandalay
Myanmar

November 24, 2017

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Rohingya refugees have raised concerns over the agreement between the Myanmar and Bangladesh governments on repatriation to their homeland in conflict-torn Rakhine.

Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement Nov. 23 after a meeting between Myanmar's State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali in Naypyidaw.

An official statement from the Myanmar government said the deal was based on a 1992 repatriation pact between the two countries.

More than 620,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh following the Myanmar military's brutal crackdown against militants during a counter-insurgency operation in late August following attacks on security posts.

Suu Kyi who has been harshly criticized by the international community for her handling of the Rohingya refugee crisis has said repatriation would be based on residency and that it would be safe and voluntary.

Hamidul Islam, 50, a Rohingya Muslim from Maungdaw who fled with his family in mid-September and is in Balukhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar district, was doubtful about the deal.

"I don't believe we will be repatriated to Burma (Myanmar) soon although the deal has been signed. The situation in Rakhine is still tense and we fear the military and Moghs (Rakhine Buddhists) would kill us," he told ucanews.com.

"From the beginning we have appealed that our return to Rakhine should be overseen by the United Nations and that we must be granted citizenship. We must move out if the Bangladesh government does not want to shelter us anymore. But we fear without security and citizenship rights, we will remain vulnerable to violence and persecution," he added.

Nasir Hossain, 45, who fled to Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazar in late August was fearful of further violence after the Myanmar military arrested his two brothers who he fears were killed.

"Who will ensure our security if we are repatriated? How can we return to the fold of a murderous military that wants to wipe us out?" Hossain who fled with his family told ucanews.com.

Both Islam and Hossain told ucanews.com that their houses were burned in the violence and they have no belongings or documentation to prove their residency in Rakhine.

Foreign Minister Ali said the repatriation will start within two months.

"During this period, the Myanmar government will construct houses for the ones burned down and then we will move to the next stage," Ali told Prothom Alo, a leading Bengali daily on Nov. 23. 

Rights groups have called for international monitoring of the repatriation process.

Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at Human Rights Watch, said the idea that Myanmar will now welcome Rohingya refugees back to their "smoldering villages" with open arms was laughable.

"Instead of signing on to a public relations stunt, the international community should make it clear that there can be no returns without international monitors to ensure security, an end to the idea of putting returnees in camps, the return of land and the rebuilding of destroyed homes and villages," Frelick said.

C.R. Abrar, professor of International Relations at Dhaka University told the BBC Bangla Service Nov. 23, that there was not much hope in the agreement. 

"It seems Myanmar is trying to delay the process and it's not a perfect bilateral agreement as we see it. It does not have a time frame for repatriation," Arbar said.

Abrar, former chairman of the Refugee and Migratory Movement Research unit of Dhaka University, said another concern was there was no mention of third-party involvement and access to verification after return.

"We don't have any indication that repatriation would be voluntary, dignified and secure. Without a third-party like the U.N., concerns remain over proper repatriation and prolonging of the process on part of Myanmar."

Pe Than, a lower house MP for the hardline Buddhist Arakan National Party in Rakhine State, said the government's plan was too rushed and only due to the constant pressure from the international community.

He said the plan lacked details such as where the Rohingya would be resettled.

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