By Editor UNB
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Nov 26 2018 (IPS/UNB United News of Bangladesh)
Amid uncertainties over commencement of planned repatriation of verified Rohingyas any time soon, UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, says the key to any lasting solution lies in Myanmar.
“It is important that the opinion of the refugees (Rohingyas) was taken into consideration,” said UNHCR’s senior spokesman Chris Melzer, discoursing any speculation of what he sees as unhelpful.
There were questions over ability of the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar to work together in a workable fashion to resolve the Rohingya crisis, after the ‘planned’ repatriation of some 2,260 individuals comprising 485 family units, failed to get off the ground.
When attention was drawn in this regard, the UNHCR spokesman said many Rohingyas would like to return but they do not feel that the situation has changed in Myanmar that would give them confidence about the future if they were to return.
“They still have concerns about their safety, their legal status, and their right to exercise basic freedoms,” said Melzer.
The Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar are the victims of human rights violations committed in the midst of the violence that erupted in August 2017 forcing over 800,000 Rohingya people to take shelter in Bangladesh.
These Rohingya people have been living in camps administered by UNHCR and the government of Bangladesh with support from a slew of UN agencies and international NGOs since August 2017.
Bangladesh Foreign Secretary M Shahidul Haque, on several occasions, made it clear that Rohingyas need to decide on their own if they want to return to Myanmar.
He pointed out that it is not Bangladesh’s decision. “It is not Myanmar’s decision and it is not UNHCR’s decision. The return is a decision that must be taken by Rohingyas.”
Asked whether the likelihood of repatriation is slim to none in next six months, the UNHCR spokesman said such speculation is not helpful.
“The authorities there need to take tangible steps to address the root causes of displacement,” Melzer said adding that UNHCR remains committed to supporting efforts by the government of Myanmar towards creating conditions for returns, in line with the terms of a tripartite Memorandum of Understanding it signed with UNDP and the Myanmar authorities.
In the meantime, the UNHCR official said, they are very thankful for the Bangladesh government which has shown remarkable hospitality. “We know from our discussions with refugees how grateful they are.”
Responding to another question, Melzer said any returns have to be undertaken in line with international standards of voluntariness, and in dignity and safety.
“All refugees have the right to return and equally, they have to decide for themselves when they believe the conditions are conducive for return,” he said.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has called on Myanmar to allow refugees to go to see the conditions in Rakhine State for themselves, so they can make an independent assessment of whether they feel the conditions are conducive for return in safety and dignity.
Asked why the repatriation plan did fail on November 15, the official said nobody wants to flee their home and when people are forced to flee, there are strong reasons.
“As long as these reasons still exist and the reasons that led to their displacement have not been addressed, people will be reluctant to return home unless they feel the situation on the ground has changed,” he said.
Talking about international communities roles, UNHCR said Rohingyas in Bangladesh will continue to need support for as long as they are displaced.
“They rely on the international community for all their basic needs. This is not something Bangladesh should shoulder responsibility for on its own,” he said.
UNHCR has consistently called on the international community to show global solidarity with the authorities in Bangladesh in supporting the Rohingya.
“This is in line with the Global Compact on Refugees that UNHCR has been working for , and we hope will be signed by the UN General Assembly before the end of the year. There must be shared international responsibilities,” Melzer said.
Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations Ambassador Masud Bin Momen has urged all Member States to support for sharing their responsibility for the Rohingya.
He said Bangladesh, as a responsible State, will do everything in line with the established norms of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
A diplomatic source said some, within the international community, are trying to give an impression that Bangladesh has taken it as a “business venture” and Bangladesh does not want the repatriation of Rohingyas.
In Bangladesh, however, the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has always insisted that the Rohingya would return only if they wanted to.
“There is no gain to be made for Bangladesh by either holding back the Rohingya or forcing their return,” said Ambassador Momen at the third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) of the United Nations General Assembly on November 16.
Bangladesh also urged all concerned to refrain from either of these narratives, and take a step back from the condescending approach they tend to take when it comes to reminding us of what is the right thing to do.
The third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) of the United Nations General Assembly endorsed a draft resolution on November 16 that condemn all rights violations in Myanmar and called for an independent investigation into them, including against Rohingya Muslims, to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable.
The Committee’s approval was similarly marked by intense debate, with Myanmar’s delegate “totally” rejecting the text as procedurally unwarranted and “hopelessly unconstructive” in its attempt to exert pressure on a soft target. It was passed by a recorded vote of 142 in favour to 10 against – China, Russia, Myanmar, Belarus, Burundi, Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Philippines, Viet Nam and Zimbabwe – with 26 abstentions.
The Assembly would advocate international support for the underfunded 2018 joint response plan for the Rohingya humanitarian crisis.
Bangladesh needs strong support from China to resolve the Rohingya crisis. However, China thinks the United Nations and the international community should remain patient rather than complicating the situation, noting that they stands ready to support Bangladesh-Myanmar’s endeavor as these two countries had agreed to start a repatriation process.
When Bangladesh and Myanmar were set to begin the first batch of Rohingya repatriation on November 15, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, in a statement instantly, urged the government of Bangladesh to halt plans for the repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar.
She, at the same time, called on the government of Myanmar to show its seriousness in creating the conditions for return by addressing the root causes of the crisis in Rakhine state, in particular the systematic discrimination against and persecution of Rohingya.