For the past five years, various speculations have been going on about the repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar. Recently, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet added a new dimension to the issue of Rohingya repatriation. On August 16, she visited the Rohingya camp in Ukhia. The Rohingya expressed hope of their return to Myanmar. According to the media, she tried to explain that the situation in Rakhine State is not yet favourable for the repatriation of Rohingyas 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 Bangladesh government gave shelter to the Rohingyas on humanitarian grounds. Five years have passed since and Myanmar is still evading the issue of repatriation of Rohingyas.
Myanmar has always tried to convince the international community that it is serious about taking back the Rohingyas, but its actual steps have been otherwise. On November 23, 2017, a 19-point agreement was signed between the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar regarding the repatriation of the Rohingyas, 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. That plan remains in the dark. In 2019, after the hearing of the case imposed by Gambia against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice, the interim order of the case on January 23, 2020 did not come with any direct instructions regarding the repatriation of the Rohingyas.
Then the Rohingya repatriation talks got stuck due to corona pandemic and Myanmar’s military coup. On February 1, 2021, senior general Min Aung Hlaing seized power in Myanmar through a military coup. This regime started to rethink the discussion of Rohingya repatriation. 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 the solution of the Rohingya crisis. No action by the United Nations is yet visible in 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.
Meanwhile, a list of Rohingyas sent by Myanmar to Bangladesh in 2022 gave rise to new drama. A list of 11,000 people was supposed to be sent, but only 700 people were included in that list. Although there is a father from one family in that list, the names of other family members did not appear in the list. This is also a new strategy of Myanmar. No one wants to go without family members. The Rohingyas on this list refused to return to Myanmar.
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. ‘Muhibullah’, also known as ‘Master Muhibullah’ by Rohingyas, was instrumental in the repatriation of Rohingyas to Rohingya camps. His meeting with US President Donald Trump in July 2019, his multiple visits to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as a leader of the Rohingyas, and his actions like organising a mass meeting in the presence of three to five million Rohingyas on the anniversary of the Rohingya arrival on August 25, 2019, were noteworthy. 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, it is believed that Myanmar was behind the murder. This is clearly to extinguish forever the clamour for repatriation of Rohingyas to Rohingya camps.
Now back to Michelle Bachelet’s concerns about the situation in Rakhine State. Five years have already passed since the incident of torture of Rohingyas in 2017. The exact situation regarding Rakhine State is not being disclosed to the international community by Myanmar. At times, Myanmar has tried to divert the attention of the Rohingyas back to Rakhine State by favouring some organizations like ARSA or Arakan Army. But the reality is that there are various economic projects undertaken by countries like China, India and Russia around this Rakhine State. These include China’s ‘Belt and Road’ project, 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, a four-lane highway connecting Myanmar-Thailand and India, Russian oil projects such as the investment by the company Bashneft, the establishment of the Japanese government’s planned economic zone near Maungdoo, Rakhine. The Myanmar government is working diligently to implement these projects. Repatriation of Rohingyas to Rakhine State could derail such economic plans. Thus, Myanmar continues to politicise the situation in Rakhine state. Based on that, Michelle Bachelet’s message to Rohngyas to wait is prolonging the issue of Rohingya repatriation. Now let’s see, when this wait is over!
The writer is a researcher based at Gauhati University, Assam. [email protected]