We are disappointed by the comments made by the Myanmar delegation who recently visited the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps to verify the Rohingya’s identities.
The delegation was also there to brief the Rohingya about the repatriation process, citizenship procedures and other facilities.
When the refugees reiterated their demand to return to their original homes—not to the villages or camps set up for them in Rakhine—the delegates apparently could not make any such commitment.
Reportedly, all they could say was that they would discuss the matter with the higher authorities in Naypyidaw.
We are surprised at their answer at a time when all arrangements are underway to start the repatriation process by sending the first batch of Rohingya—some 3,000 of them—to Myanmar by December this year.
Over the past few months, we witnessed some encouraging developments regarding the repatriation of Rohingya refugees to their homeland in Myanmar.
China’s initiative to mediate the process with Myanmar was particularly commendable, after years of foot-dragging by the international community to resolve the crisis.
And after Chinese Special Envoy on Myanmar Deng Xijun hinted in early August that Myanmar may take back the Rohingya living in Cox’s Bazar to their own villages in North Maungdaw and nearby places—instead of any camps or “model villages” that the Myanmar authorities had planned earlier—we were hopeful about the safe and dignified return of the Rohingya refugees, who have been living in squalid camps for the last six years.
Reportedly, in September, Myanmar agreed to allow international volunteers, including those from the UN, China and ASEAN countries, to take part in humanitarian assistance during the repatriation process.
It also agreed to let the Rohingya visit Myanmar for a second time as a confidence-building measure.
But now we have learned that Myanmar is planning to repatriate the Rohingya to 20 model villages on a pilot basis.
This is unacceptable; the Rohingya themselves have made this clear time and again. They have also demanded their citizenship and voting rights upon their return.
Therefore, we would like to remind the Myanmar authorities that they cannot just backtrack on their promise of repatriating the Rohingya to their original villages. If they do so, it may result in another failed repatriation effort.