Bangladesh and Myanmar have formulated an arrangement to repatriate the Rohingyas who have sought refuge in Bangladesh fleeing the atrocities perpetrated by the Myanmar military. The major point of interest is the criteria for deciding who is eligible to be repatriated and who is not, i.e. the standard of proof that an individual was a legitimate inhabitant of Rakhine, Myanmar. It seems Myanmar government has set a criterion that is as strict and harsh as possible so as to deny repatriation to as many Rohingyas as possible. Since the citizenship laws in Myanmar disenfranchises the Rohingyas by denying them citizenship, it is quite unlikely that they would be able to produce any credible document to prove that they are former residents of Rakhine. Further aggravating this problem is the fact that most of the refugees while fleeing the atrocities have left everything behind in Rakhine and many of their homes and villages have been burned to the ground. Therefore, the criterion of eligibility is a major impediment to the conclusion and successful implementation of the repatriation arrangement.
Although, Myanmar could also intentionally drag on the process of repatriation until the issue loses relevance thus prolonging the crisis. Bangladesh and the international community must continue to exert pressure with increasing intensity on the government of Myanmar to conclusively resolve the crisis.
The aim of this piece is to explore whether the repatriation of the Rohingyas to Myanmar in and of itself would effectively resolve the crisis in the long term from the perspective of Rohingyas and Bangladesh. Although, the best possible means to resolve the crisis still seems to be the establishment of a United Nations Interim Administration in Rakhine. Nonetheless, an agreement between the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar which is supported by the international community may be able to successfully resolve the crisis.
From the perspective of Rohingyas and Bangladesh, any plan of action or agreement must ensure that the Rohingyas are duly conferred citizenship of Myanmar, and accorded rights and treatment as legitimate citizens, thus ensuring that they can rebuild their lives in Rakhine, and the assurance that the Myanmar government would never engage in another such brutal campaign. Without these guarantees, it is very likely that Myanmar military may restart its ethnic cleansing campaign with greater intensity as and when the pressure from the international community eases or it may inconspicuously and strategically continue to depopulate the Rakhine of the Rohingyas so as not to draw attention to its ethnic cleansing campaign.
Rohingya refugees have been seeking refuge in Bangladesh since the nineteen-eighties and Bangladesh could not do much about it. A steady trickle of refugees over decades does not garner the same reaction or sympathy in the international community as one which is garnered by a mass exodus in the short span of two months. Therefore, in the future, a steady trickle of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar caused by a subtle ethnic cleansing campaign will not muster enough international support to stop Myanmar’s depopulating campaign.
Therefore, an agreement which only deals with the issue of repatriation but does not guarantee the rights, safety, and security of the Rohingyas does not resolve the crisis and risks its recurrence in the future. In order to conclusively resolve the crisis and ensure peace, the agreement should not only deal with repatriation but also rehabilitation of the Rohingyas in Rakhine, restitution of their lands, their reintegration into the society and politics, and of course, grant of citizenship and all the complementary rights. The agreement must guarantee unfettered access to humanitarian aid agencies and organisations including the United Nations to Rakhine. The agreement must also establish an international commission which will oversee and monitor the implementation of the agreement so as to ensure the full implementation of the agreement and that the international community continues to be a stakeholder in the process, so that in the off-chance agreement falls through the international community will have a responsibility to act accordingly. It needs to be understood that, at present, Myanmar is being given a bitter pill. It is up to Bangladesh and the world to ensure that it is swallowed and that it cures the Rohingyas of their plight. As long as Rohingyas are persecuted in Myanmar Bangladesh will continue to bear the brunt.
A different version of this article was first published in The Daily Star on 21 November 2017 titled, ‘Rohingyas’ dignified return to their homeland’.