Millennium Post

Drivers for repatriation

Amidst the severe Rohingya crisis, the brunt of which has been borne by Bangladesh ever since nearly a million Rohingyas fled their homes in Myanmar's Rakhine state in a desperate attempt to escape the military crackdown by Myanmar's army, India has stepped up to aid them in returning to their homes. July 9 saw the Indian Ambassador to Myanmar Saurabh Kumar hand over 250 completed and pre-fabricated homes to the Myanmar government for housing the Rohingya refugees upon their return. The houses were constructed as part of an agreement between the Indian and Myanmar governments in 2017, under which the Indian government had committed to spending $25 million over five years. But the question that nevertheless remains is whether these homes will be of any use or not since two years on, there seems to be no hope on the horizon of refugees returning to their homes. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas, mostly Muslim, had fled the violence unleashed by the Myanmar army which was termed as a retaliatory measure by Myanmar's Buddhist-majority community and saw over thousands killed. Today, nearly a million Rohingyas reside in dismal conditions in Bangladesh's Kutupalong camp near Cox's Bazar. The Rohingya crisis informed the global community that Myanmar had indeed driven them away owing to the fact that Buddhist-dominated Myanmar does not recognise them as an ethnic group, insisting that they are Bangladeshi migrants living illegally in the country. An impression was formed that maybe Myanmar does not want them to return though its a different thing whether they would considering the ethnic cleansing carried out by the Myanmar military. But on the occasion of handing over 250 houses, a Myanmar government official spoke otherwise. The official asserted that contrary to the general impression, the Myanmar government was actually keen on assuring the Rohingya a safe passed back to their villages, and India wants to "create incentives" for refugees to go home. In fact, Myanmar officials, along with their foreign secretary, are scheduled to travel to Bangladesh and assure the refugees of their safety if they return. But just as all this sounds comforting enough for the Rohingyas to return, the government's approach back in Naypyitaw doesn't. They continue to not recognise them as citizens and maintain that they will not prosecute army personnel and civilians for killings–described by UN officials as bearing the "hallmark of genocide". This creates a paradox. And, this paradox has its roots in Myanmar's repressive Citizenship Law of 1982. For years this law has not only discriminated against the Rohingya but recently contributed to the attempts to remove them Myanmar. In 2016, Aung San Suu Kyi established a commission into the situation in Rakhine State, where most Rohingya used to live which was chaired by Kofi Annan. On the crucial issue of citizenship, however, the commission, instead of a clear recommendation to reform or repeal the Citizenship Law and grant citizenship to Rohingya, recommended that the Myanmar government implements the current 1982 Citizenship Law. While the Myanmar dispensation ponders over the possible amendment of their citizenship law in order to allow Rohingyas citizenship, monsoon rains have worsened the situation for them back in mud tracts of Bangladesh. Rain-fed floods have already affected several thousand since April and the need for intervention is inevitable.

Houses constructed by India, as well as Japan, China and other ASEAN countries for Rohingya may be futile unless Myanmar dispensation decides to resolve this issue. The dilemma in the conscience of a million Rohingya is that between survival and home with latter suffering under the outstanding incentive of pursuing the former. Myanmar government's pursuit to have ASEAN countries aid in rebuilding villages in order to accommodate the Rohingyas seriously conflicts their approach over their citizenship. It is logistically not possible for Bangladesh to host the entire Rohingya community for long and Myanmar has procrastinated enough on the issue. It is time to start making decisions which would be beneficial in the interest of not just Rohingyas but India and Bangladesh which have been the preferred refuge for them. It seems that the prime concern on Myanmar's account should be the vote of confidence from Rohingyas over their safety back home which would be the driver for repatriation, if at all.

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