According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are presently about one million Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh. Over 1,100 Rohingya refugees are currently the subject of a trial initiative that is being discussed. With China’s assistance, Bangladesh and Myanmar hope to begin returning the Rohingya before the monsoon season.

For this reason, a delegation of 27 Rohingya and government representatives traveled to Myanmar on Friday to keep an eye on the situation in Rakhine. On Friday afternoon, the party traveled to 15 villages in the Rakhine area of Myanmar. The delegation’s goal was to determine whether Myanmar offers a welcoming climate conducive to repatriation.

On March 15, 480 Rohingya belonging to 177 families were confirmed in Teknaf by a 22-member Myanmar delegation from Maungdaw, Rakhine State, Myanmar. From that list, a delegation of 20 Rohingya individuals was created. The Rohingya, however, reportedly did not perceive a welcoming environment for repatriation there.

Bangladesh remains upbeat about the return of the Rohingya. According to the foreign ministry of Bangladesh, each family would receive a home in the model village, land for farming, fertiliser, and seeds after their return.

The Rohingya camps in Bangladesh are a lot worse than Maungdaw’s model hamlet. For those families who choose to stay in the model village, each will be given an acre of land for farming. Rohingya children will have the chance to attend school as well as work and conduct business on their own. The model villages now contain hospitals, mosques, and playgrounds, which were previously absent from Rohingya settlements. This opportunity ought to be seized by the Rohingya.

Authorities in Myanmar have informed the Rohingya community that those arriving from Bangladesh will only be held at the Maungdaw transit facility for three days, then make a direct transfer to Model Village. Following that, the Rohingya will receive National Verification Certificates proving their citizenship in Myanmar. If you can prove that you are a resident of Myanmar and present the required paperwork, the National Identity Card will be granted in stages.

Some of the Rohingya delegation members protested the National Verification Certificates during the tour and insisted that resettlement take place in Janmvita rather than the National Identity Card and Model Village.

A Rohingya refugee carries his children as he walks through water after crossing the border by boat through the Naf River in Teknaf in Bangladesh in September 2017. Credit: Reuters.

The Rohingya’s companion delegation from Bangladesh expressed happiness with the surroundings. They stated that the environment and condition in Rakhine are extremely good and that more than 0.8 million Rohingya from other parts of Rakhine State crossed the Naf river and fled to Bangladesh six years ago, but that the Rohingya remained in Maungdaw.

Mohammad Mizanur Rahman, the commissioner for refugees, relief, and repatriation, served as the delegation’s leader. He said, “We traveled to the countryside as well as Maungdaw City. We have spoken with the Rohingya there as well; the atmosphere is excellent. While hard at work, Rohingya can freely wander Maungdaw city. We are hopeful and eager to begin the repatriation of Rohingya. A delegation from Myanmar will return to Bangladesh to speak with the Rohingya.”

According to Mohammad Chalim, the leader of the Rohingya group in Rakhine, “the Rohingya team has been given the opportunity to examine how much infrastructure has been developed to enable the repatriation to Rakhine in addition to touring 15 communities in Rakhine”.

However, they want to bring in Rohingya with NBC cards, or guest cards, without requiring them to give up their citizenship first. According to Myanmar’s government, citizenship will be awarded six months after relocating there. In response, we have argued that citizenship should come first in the repatriation process.

The Rohingya’s return to their own nation is crucial, though. A whole population cannot spend years in another country in refuge from another situation where they are denied their basic civil rights. They have the right to go back to their own nation, their own territory, and their own homes – where they can exercise all of their civil rights to strive toward constructing a better life and future for themselves and their offspring.

The programme might be considered as the beginning of the long-overdue repatriation, which can inspire more people to return home in the future. But we must remember that this is just the beginning. More people will follow and go back to their ancestral homes if the plan succeeds.

Challenges faced in Bangladesh

The survival of more than 80% of the refugees in Cox’s Bazar depends on charity from elsewhere. A monthly food ration of Tk1,030 is provided to each family. The difficulty of supporting a family with this amount was often emphasised by Rohingya.

On the other side, the surge of refugees has severely strained the environment and host communities in a nation with a high population density. According to a World Food Programme assessment, the host populations in Cox’s Bazar are equally as vulnerable and at risk of going hungry as the Rohingya.

The Rohingya may also be hesitant to go back out of fear that their rights would continue to be violated. The difficult issue for Bangladesh, however, would be how to manage this refugee crisis for a number of years to come, which would involve money, administration, inclusive and fair treatment of the refugee and host communities, as well as concerns about national security.

To send back refugees where both countries have historical experience and precedents to send Rohingya back, there is a need for a “pilot repatriation initiative”. Since 1978, Bangladesh and Myanmar have resolved their differences with assistance from other nations.

Rohingya refugees receive aid distributed by local organisations at the Balukhali makeshift refugee camp in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh in September 2017. Credit: Reuters.

Bangladesh’s government and the majority of its citizens share the Rohingya’s humanitarian concerns. We cannot, however, provide refuge for this enormous population for very long. Although our nation is small, it has a sizable population.

The Rohingya cannot consistently receive food, shelter, and medical care due to our limited economic capabilities. It is important to note that aid for the Rohingya is decreasing daily. The current Ukraine conflict has the entire world on edge. Although the world community has lost sight of the Rohingya humanitarian issue as a result of the war in Ukraine, it still exists.

According to reports, just 43% of the $881 million needed for the Joint Response Plan 2022 has been funded in 2022. The amount that was disbursed in 2021 represented 72% of the necessary $943 million.

Eight hundred arenas used for drug smuggling operate in Rohingya camps, where 123 people have died in fighting over the course of five years. In the Rohingya camps, extortion, murder, rape, and the sale of arms have all been documented. Internal anarchy is growing.

The decision to provide asylum to the Rohingya was an act of humanitarianism. The international community now has the duty to return them.

A connection based on trust

There are numerous social and environmental issues as well as pressure on our economy as a result of the Rohingya scenario. It is now necessary to focus on developing a trustworthy relationship with Myanmar. Bangladesh should endeavour to establish a rapport based on trust with Myanmar’s people, the government, and the opposition – regardless of which party is in power.

To increase Myanmar’s trust, Bangladesh has already begun trading with them. However, this is not enough of an effort. Bangladesh has also sent representatives to Myanmar on their national day, met with their security forces, and sent aid to those affected by the tragedy there.

It has been more than 20 years since the two nations last met at the highest level. From Bangladesh’s independence in 1971 to 2000, there were 16 summit-level meetings with Myanmar. This indicates that there is no communication between the two nations.

Increased communication between the two nations’ foreign ministers is necessary. In addition to the Rohingya, there are numerous other concerns between the two nations that at this time require additional discussion. In order to advance their own interests in the Rohingya issue, they should, if necessary, make compromises in other areas and forge a trusting relationship.

The discussion of a “conducive environment” is politically biased. The Junta is ensuring their security when it repatriates them. The Arakan Army and the National Unity Government – the other parties involved in Rakhine and Myanmar – have already acknowledged the Rohingya.

Furthermore, because China is supporting the agreement, it is also obligated to offer an external guarantee for the protection of the Rohingya upon their return. Therefore, discussing the prospects of repatriation with the Junta might not be dangerous. The NGOs appear to be pushed by their own need to extend their “programmes” and pinch their sponsors while highlighting the hardship of the refugee community.

In a nutshell, the repatriation plan will at least somewhat lessen Bangladesh’s burden. The experimental project will improve relations between Bangladesh and Myanmar. The international community shouldn’t oppose it; instead, they should go forward and actively participate in ensuring the prompt return of the remaining refugees.

An anti-military coup demonstration in Hlaingbwe township, in eastern Myanmar's Karen state. Credit: AFP.

The international community did not exert much pressure on the Junta to return the Rohingya. Prior to the Junta, the world likewise failed to persuade the democratically elected government to send the Rohingya home and prosecute the offenders.

For the past six years, Bangladesh has undertaken bilateral, trilateral, and multilateral negotiations in an effort to find a workable solution. Bangladesh is keen to examine the effort, especially now with China mediating the accord with UN permission.

The Rohingya are the most persecuted population of our time, and while Bangladesh, the Rohingya’s protector on the international arena, is working tirelessly to bring them home, NGOs are not doing enough to help. Therefore, the Junta’s readiness and China’s engagement might be considered as a burden-sharing arrangement for Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is a desperate host looking for ways to lighten the load, while its international partners are only fulfilling their formal obligations within predetermined boundaries, due to the declining funding, deteriorating camp conditions, rising insecurity, and negative effects of the refugees on the host community. But some difficulties need to be addressed as well.

Myanmar must ensure that the return of Rohingya Muslims is continuous, dignified, and sustainable. Myanmar needs to update its 1982 citizenship law. The Rohingya must be regarded as a recognised ethnic group in Myanmar.

A safe area for Rohingya must be provided.

They must adhere to the demands or recommendations made by the Kofi Annan Commission (The Advisory Commission on Rakhine State) and the suggestions made by the Bangladeshi Prime Minister in the 74th, 75th, and 76th UN General Assemblies.

Analysts do caution Bangladesh to exercise caution if Myanmar decides to return 700 refugees. They have to uphold their promise. Myanmar must state that it would repatriate all Rohingya refugees who are stranded in Bangladesh.

They must be committed to making the process a continuous one. All Rohingya would be progressively repatriated.

Myanmar must treat Bangladesh as a friendly neighbour. Bangladesh and Myanmar are unable to influence their neighbours. In essence, Myanmar and Bangladesh must cooperate in a neighbourly manner. To settle the long-lasting Rohingya conflict, Myanmar and Bangladesh must improve their relations. The resolution of this regional humanitarian problem could be beneficial to South and Southeast Asia as a whole.

Myanmar needs to have goodwill in order to interact favourably with Bangladesh. The Rohingya situation needs to be resolved successfully and permanently, according to the entire globe. For the Rohingya people to return from Bangladesh to Myanmar with safety and dignity, a solution to the Rohingya problem is necessary.

Anup Sinha is a researcher specialising in South Asian affairs.

This article was first published on Dhaka Tribune.