Dhaka April 17 (TNS): Bungling, distortion and diplomatic doublespeak have hollowed out the deal to repatriate Rohingya from Bangladesh to Myanmar, with refugees refusing to return to a homeland that remains perilously insecure.
“We will have to stay here for a long period, maybe generations,” Ali, a Rohingya refugee and father-of-six, said from the Kutupalong mega-camp on Bangladesh’s side of the border.
In November Myanmar agreed to take back around 750,000 Rohingya from Bangladesh — which hosts around one million of the Muslim minority driven out by waves of state violence stretching back to 1978.
Yet so far, Myanmar has signed off just 675 names from a Bangladeshi list of 8,000 refugees, citing discrepancies in the verification forms proving their residency in Rakhine state.
Months have elapsed, but no one has crossed back under the deal.
A family of five was “repatriated” over the weekend from a wedge of no-man’s land between the neighbours.
Their return was swiftly pilloried as a PR stunt by rights groups and labelled “not meaningful” by Bangladesh’s home minister.
“Whatever we say, they (Myanmar) agree,” Asaduzzaman Khan told AFP. “But they have not been able to create grounds for trust that they will take back these people.”
Myanmar does not want its Rohingya, denying them citizenship and classifying the minority as “Bengalis” who have seeped over the border illegally.
It forced around 750,000 out in two major army operations in October 2016 and August 2017.
The UN describes the August crackdown, ostensibly a kickback against Rohingya militant attacks, as “ethnic cleansing”.
Under pressure, Myanmar agreed to take back those who can prove prior residence.
Bangladesh wants swift, large-scale returns to ease pressure on the teeming camps in its Cox’s Bazar district — and salve domestic disquiet that one of Asia’s poorest countries is saddled with a huge refugee crisis.
Yet the refugees listed by Dhaka do not even know they have been volunteered to return to a country where they allege widespread atrocities.
“We did not try to ascertain approval from them,” a senior Bangladesh official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Dhaka has also muddied its side of the bargain.
Under the repatriation agreement, the head of each Rohingya family must list the address of his or her father, mother and spouse in Myanmar.
But those details were inexplicably omitted from the forms submitted to Myanmar, the official told AFP.
With no new names planned for scrutiny, the process is at a standstill.
For the Rohingya, return is the ultimate aim but only on condition of guaranteed safety and — crucially — citizenship, a red line to Myanmar authorities who stripped them of that status in 1982. TNS/AFP