Is Myanmar ready to take back Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh?
Dhaka, Oct 3: Bangladesh is facing one of its most pressing humanitarian crises in recent times as half a million Rohingya refugees, who have fled Myanmar, have taken shelter in the nation.
For a "poor" country like Bangladesh to allow such a huge number of refugees to enter its soil is a big thing as it is nowhere capable of giving proper shelter, food and clothing to so many refugees who have left their homeland to avoid violence and persecution.
The humanly gesture shown by Bangladesh towards the violence-hit Rohingyas from Myanmar has been well-appreciated by all international aid groups, including the UN.
However, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also made it clear that Myanmar government needs to stop violence and killings of Rohingyas and restart the process of taking back the Rohingyas.
The process of repatriation of Rohingyas has started on Monday, albeit the entire exercise is in its very initial stage.
On Monday, Myanmar proposed to take back over half a million of its Rohingyas from Bangladesh as the two countries agreed to set up a working group to coordinate the repatriation of the minority Muslims who have fled across the border after a military crackdown.
More than half a million Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh over the last five weeks after militant attacks on police checkposts in the Buddhist majority country sparked violent reprisals.
Bangladesh has repeatedly urged Myanmar to repatriate them. Bangladesh's foreign minister AH Mahmood Ali on Monday held talks in Dhaka with a senior representative of Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
"Myanmar has proposed to take back the Rohingyas from Bangladesh," Ali told reporters emerging from an over one hour long meeting with minister for the office of the state counsellor of Myanmar Kyaw Tint Swe.
The two sides agreed on forming a joint working group to oversee the repatriation process but its composition would be decided later by both the countries, he said.
Ali said the meeting was held "in a peaceful manner" and Bangladesh handed over the Myanmar representative a proposed agreement for smooth refugee repatriation and suggested implementation of Annan Commission report for peaceful resolution of the crisis.
"Fruitful discussion was also held on security cooperation (in the meeting) when Bangladesh reiterated its zero tolerance policy against all sorts of terrorism," Ali said.
Asked if there was any timeframe fixed for forming the joint working group, the minister evaded a direct answer saying "the process has started" but said Bangladesh's home minister Asaduzzaman Khan would "soon visit Myanmar to discuss the issue".
Hasina earlier called for an end to the violence and for safe zones to be set up in Myanmar to enable refugees to return. She asked the United Nations (UN) to send a fact-finding mission to Myanmar and for Myanmar to implement recommendations drawn up by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan-led team on solving problems in Rakhine.
Khan and senior Bangladesh officials joined the meeting, which came after the overnight arrival of Kyaw Tint Swe. There was no immediate comment from Suu Kyi's representative, who arrived late on Sunday night to Dhaka amid mounting global pressures on the country over exodus of its ethnic minority Rohingya nationals to Bangladesh.
The latest influx of refugees began on August 25 when Myanmar's military launched a crackdown in the northern Rakhine State over alleged terrorist attacks on its police outposts.
With the latest influx, there are now more than 800,000 refugees living near Bangladesh's border with Myanmar. The refugees claimed the Myanmar security forces were shooting at civilians, setting fire to their homes and raping Rohingya women.
Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi, who has been severely criticised for her failure to curb the military crackdown on the Rohingyas, said in a speech last month that Myanmar would take back "verified" refugees.
She said Myanmar was ready to start a verification process under a 1993 agreement with Bangladesh and "refugees from this country will be accepted without any problem".
Rohingyas, a Muslim minority, do not qualify for Myanmar citizenship even though many have lived there for generations while its army insists they are interlopers from across the border in Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, India's latest stand to deport around 40,000 Rohingyas staying in various parts of the country has been heavily criticised by several national and international groups. In an opinion piece for Hindustan Times, Colin Gonsalves, senior Supreme Court advocate and founder, Human Rights Law Network, said that the law is clear that India can't deport Rohingyas.