by Krishna Kumar Saha 22 August 2019
The first batch of Rohingya Refugees repatriation is scheduled to begin 22 August 2019. Bangladesh government has first provided a list of 22,000 Rohingyas but Myanmar reportedly verified 3,450 Rohingya for repatriation list. If everything goes well, they can start going back to their homeland, Myanmar. And it is a good sign! There was a plan for the repatriation in January 2018 but due to the lack of preparedness from Bangladesh side, the government had to postpone it. Another attempt on 15 November 2019 for repatriation was canceled due to the unwellness of the Rohingya Refugees. Because they want equal access to full citizenship for them, UN-backed safe zone in Rakhine, recognition of their ethnicity as Rohingya, and return to the place from where they were driven out.
What happened this time, are they going to get citizenship of Myanmar? Probably not! Because Myanmar authorities are planning to accommodate them in the ‘transit centers’ and there they will be required to accept National Verification Cards (NVCs). As far as we know, NVCs do not confer rights nor citizenship. According to a recent publication by Fortify Rights, ‘NVC application process effectively identify Rohingya as ‘Bengali’ or more generally as ‘foreigners’.
Also, the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission of Myanmar, Wu Win Mra commented that providing citizenship to Rohingya Population is ‘complicated’ and ‘contradictory’ to Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law. He also mentioned that it is a time-consuming matter, and nothing can be done all of on a sudden.
Besides, to all the recent efforts, there was Rohingya repatriation from 1992 to 1995. Bangladesh Government, Myanmar, and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees forcibly repatriated an estimated 250,000 Rohingya Refugees from Bangladesh to northern Rakhine State. After the repatriation, Myanmar authorities started issuing Temporary Resident Cards (‘White Cards’) to Rohingya, which is like NVCs and it did not confer rights.
Coming back to the present repatriation effort, now everything is set to go but there is still no confirmation of their citizenship rights. On 16 January 2018, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a document on ‘Physical Arrangement’, which was supposed to facilitate the return of Rohingyas to their homeland. It also stipulates that the repatriation will be completed preferably within two years from the ‘start’. That means as soon as the repatriation starts, there will be two years to end the process. Hence the ‘start’ of repatriation is a good sign but that raises few questions, is the place safe for their return? Is there a congenial environment in Rakhine for Rohingyas to return? What about ensuring accountability for mass atrocities? Anything on restoring Rohingya citizenship rights? Will there be more/less/any deprivation of basic human rights that are ongoing in Rakhine State? Has the trust been rebuilt?
We all want Rohingya refugees to return to their homeland, Myanmar but without ensuring Rohingyas with their basic rights and protections in Myanmar, it would be more dangerous and reckless than the current situation. According to the statement from Fortify Rights, ‘the situation in Rakhine State is unsafe for returns and Rohingya refugees to continue to cross into Bangladesh seeking safety’. If it is true, we think Rohingya repatriation will be a ‘failed’ and ‘dangerous’ attempt. Also, without amending the 1982 Citizenship Law in line with international laws and standards no Rohingya Refugees can be provided with citizenship of Myanmar. Since there has been a long history of abuse against Rohingya in Myanmar, now it is very important to be fully consulted and engaged decision by the Rohingyas Refugees.