The repatriation of an estimated 650,000 Rohingyas from Bangladesh to Myanmar has hit the reefs amidst fears that the refugees would be forced to return against their will.
Furthermore, misgivings that the minority group, persecuted with equal malevolence by the junta and the Buddhist majority, would be coerced into leaving Bangladesh are not wholly unfounded.
The process, which was scheduled to have been initiated on Tuesday, has been postponed and it is hard not to wonder if the agreement on repatriation, signed on 23 November last year between Dhaka and Naypidaw, is almost in tatters.
In the net, the credibility of such leaders as Aung San Suu Kyi and Begum Hasina is at stake, and for the latter in an election year.
The method of executing the bilateral pact doesn’t appear to have been finalised, if the reason proffered by the Bangladesh refugee and repatriation commissioner, Abul Kalam, is any indication ~ “The main thing is that the process has to be voluntary.
The paperwork for returning refugees has not yet been finalised and transit camps are yet to be built in Bangladesh.” The fine print is pretty obvious, specifically that there has been little or no progress on the ground.
More accurately, the purported humanitarian intervention, ostensibly to address the worst refugee crisis since World War II, has been a half-hearted attempt at best and horribly delayed at worst. It is a measure of the overwhelming uncertainty that the Bangladesh foreign minister, AH Mahmood Ali, has declined to specify a time-frame for repatriation.
His statement to the press that the “process is ongoing and you will see when it begins” is neither here nor there. It would, therefore, be reasonable to argue that the issue might fester for a long while yet.
Within the Rohingya camps, there has emerged a groundswell of opposition to what they call “forced repatriation” or being “coerced” to go back to Myanmar. Equally, Bangladesh cannot be saddled with hundreds of thousands of “nowhere men”. The task of repatriation and rehabilitation rests wholly on the thoroughly ruthless regime in Myanmar.
The Rohingyas deserve the restoration of human rights and justice; yet the bilateral agreement has no reference to either. On the contrary, Suu Kyi had once insisted on the original citizenship documents, though acutely aware that many if not most of the refugees had lost their papers as they were buffeted from shore to shore in search of a home.
More than any certificate on citizenship, the collective privation documents hideous reality. In the wake of the delayed repatriation, the Rohingyas have raised certain minimum demands that include holding the military accountable for the killings, looting and rape, and releasing “innocent Rohingyas” who have been detained in counter-insurgency operations.
In the reckoning of human rights activists, “it’s a fantasyland, make-believe world that both governments are in.”