Rohingya refugees shout slogans at a protest against a disputed repatriation program at the Unchiprang refugee camp near Teknaf on November 15, 2018.
For the past five years, there has been much speculation about repatriation of Rohingya refugees. Recently, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, added a new dimension to the issue. On August 16, she visited the Rohingya camp in Ukhia, an administrative region in Cox’s Bazar district, Bangladesh.
The Rohingya expressed hope that she would promote their right to return to Myanmar. According to media reports, she tried to explain that the situation in Rakhine state is not yet favorable for the repatriation of Rohingya and advised them to wait and be patient.
On August 25, 2017, the Myanmar military carried out a massacre of the Rohingya population in Rakhine state. The Bangladeshi government gave shelter to the Rohingya on humanitarian grounds.
During the five years that have passed since then, Myanmar has tried to cover the issue of repatriation of the Rohingya under the cloak of various dramas. Myanmar has continually tried to convince the international community that it is serious about taking back the Rohingya, but its actual steps have fallen short.
On November 23, 2017, a 19-point agreement was signed between the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar regarding the repatriation of the Rohingya, but its practical reflection is still not visible. On August 22, 2019, Myanmar announced that 3,450 Rohingyas would be divided into seven groups and taken back to their own country. But that too remains unfulfilled.
In 2019, after a hearing of the case imposed by The Gambia against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice, an interim order on January 23, 2020, did not include any direct instructions regarding the repatriation of the Rohingya.
Then the Rohingya repatriation talks got stuck because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the military coup in Myanmar. On February 1, 2021, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing seized power.
Although the resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on June 18, 2021, regarding Myanmar mentioned many issues including the country’s democratic problems, there were no instructions regarding a solution of the Rohingya crisis. As well, no action by the UN is yet visible on the implementation of the resolution adopted on the Rohingya issue at the 47th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on July 12, 2021.
The Rohingya crisis has various aspects including the indifference of the international community, the silence of the United Nations, and the issue of Rohingya citizenship. One thing to note here is the elimination of all voices from the oppressed population.
Rohingya leader Mohibullah was instrumental in repatriation efforts. His meeting with US president Donald Trump in July 2019, his multiple visits to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and such actions as organizing a mass meeting of Rohingya on the anniversary of their arrival in Bangladesh on August 25, 2019, were noteworthy.
But on September 29, 2021, he was shot dead by gunmen in Lambasia Rohingya Camp East-West Block No 1. Although the details of the murder are not known, many believe that the Myanmar regime was behind it.
What everyone is ‘waiting’ for
As for Michelle Bachelet’s concerns about the situation in Rakhine state, the exact situation is not being disclosed to the international community by Myanmar. At times, it has tried to divert the attention regarding the Rohingya back to Rakhine by favoring some organizations like the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).
But the reality is that there are several economic projects being undertaken by China, India, Russia and others around Rakhine state. These include the Thelong Myanmar-China oil and gas pipeline project, including the construction of a deep-sea port, India’s Kaladan multi-purpose project, two hydropower projects, and a four-lane highway connecting Myanmar and Thailand and India.
Other notable projects include investment by the Russian oil company Bashneft, and the Japanese government’s planned economic zone near Maungdoo, Rakhine.
The Myanmar government is working diligently to implement these projects. Repatriation of Rohingya to Rakhine state could derail such economic plans. This goes a long way toward understanding why Myanmar continues to politicize the situation in the state.
Based on all this, Michelle Bachelet’s “please wait” message takes on a new perspective. When will the wait be over?