The governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed, on 2nd October, to work on a repatriation plan. State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that verified refugees will be accepted. But the question is how the terrified and traumatized refugees would be repatriated to Arakan/Rakhine State where they experienced, witnessed and fled the genocidal brutality of Myanmar troops, Rakhine terrorists and other vigilantes. Despite assurance by the Myanmar government the violence and brutality continue. There were arson attacks on Quarter No.5 of Maungdaw town even today.
As usual, the Myanmar government’s policy is obscure and its offer for repatriation is trickery. From time to time, Myanmar has had seized, destroyed any proof of documentation or issued no documentation at all to a large number of Rohingya. Now the Rohingyas lack documents for verification and resettlement as their houses were burned down. Myanmar government has already claimed state-ownership of Rohingyas’ land within the affected region of Northern Arakan/Rakhine state and has planned to confine the repatriated refugees in displacement camps like Sittwe, which were described by New York Times as 21st century concentration camps. In fact, the so-called verification process itself is an instrument of persecution since the Rohingyas are not only natural born citizens but also a recognized ethnic group of Burma/Myanmar.
Myanmar never kept their word in the past; it disregarded all previous repatriation agreements and stopped cooperating with Bangladesh. With the fresh exodus, the total number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh now is estimated to be more than 850,000. Myanmar must change its attitude towards Rohingya and it must accept all refugees unconditionally.
When the Suu Kyi-army government itself is carrying genocide of Rohingya, now the responsibility to protect these helpless and defenceless people weighs on the international community. Those Rohingyas who are still at home remain trapped in Northern Rakhine’s vast open prison — without access to food and medicine, in some places even drinking water — facing starvation and diseases. The dire situation warrants humanitarian intervention to prevent further death and destruction and to ensure peace and security of the people. It is imperative to involve the international community with relevant UN agencies and refugee representatives in all stages of repatriation process.
It is noteworthy that the two previous bilateral identical repatriation agreements signed between the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar in 1978 and 1992 that described the refugees as “Burmese residents” were proved ineffective. Upon their return to Arakan the Rohingyas/refugees were and are treated as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and have continued to face mass atrocity crimes. The refugees should be able to go back to their ancestral homeland as “full citizens” of Myanmar.
The repatriation proposal is a tactical move by the regime, in the face of international condemnations and pressures, whose ultimate strategic scheme is to destroy the Rohingyas’ existence, history, identity and legality. Refugees are too terrified and feel extremely unsafe to return to Myanmar precisely because they experienced, witnessed and fled the genocidal brutality of Myanmar troops, Buddhist extremists and Rakhine vigilantes.
The repatriation proposal must not obscure the need for the international prosecution of those military, Rakhine and NLD leaders, who were directly involved in commanding the latest events resulting in the massive death, destruction and expulsion of more than half a million Rohingyas.
Repatriation is a question of life and death for the entire Rohingya population. With regard to safe and honourable repatriation the following measures, inter alia, are imperative.
- The refugees in Bangladesh camps are required to be recognized as refugees by UNHCR, which is a mandated UN protection agency.
- The Refugees should be allowed to put down their identity as “Rohingya”, the UN-recognized name to self-identify.
- Repatriation must be fully voluntary.
- The refuges must be rehabilitated in their original places and properties with full compensation under the supervision of the UN with peace-keeping force.
- Demilitarized UN safe zones shall be created in Northern Rakhine State, as an interim measure, in order to guarantee security of life, property and dignity of the persecuted people, as well as to ensure confidence, faith and understanding in the minds of the heavily traumatized refugees.
- The Myanmar government must restore their full Myanmar citizenship ensuring all rights and freedoms — security of life, property, honour, dignity, freedom of religion, movement, education, marriage, employment etc. — without any infringement, restriction, and discrimination in all affairs of their national activities.
- The Myanmar government shall recognize the “Rohingya ethnicity” allowing them to peacefully co-exist in Arakan/Rakhine State as equals with their “collective rights” on par with other ethnic nationalities of the country.
- The Myanmar Citizenship Law of 1982 must be scrapped or amended aligning it with international standards and treaties to which Myanmar is State Party, including articles 7 and 8 of the Convention on the Rights of Child as recommended by the Commission of former UN Secretary General Dr. Kofi Annan.
- Land is asset and means of making living. All previous land and landed properties of the refugees must be given back to them immediately.
- Necessary arrangement shall be made to try and punish all perpetrators by an international independent tribunal.
- The Myanmar government shall stop and prohibit all forms of racism, incitement, propaganda, hate speech, Islamophobia, decrees and directives against the Rohingyas and other Muslims.
- The Myanmar government must allow unimpeded humanitarian aids to all needy and unfettered access to the media and rights groups to Northern Arakan/Rakhine state.
- The welfare of the offspring of rapes and raped women must be ensured.