The Rohingya repatriation deal is worrying


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The world is focusing on the deal that has been reached between Myanmar and Bangladesh on repatriation of the Rohingya refugees from the Province of Chittagong (Bangladesh) to Rakhine State (Myanmar).

While there is no doubt that the refugees should be allowed to go back and live peacefully in places that they love and cherish, like many humanitarians working on both sides of the border, I worry. I worry a lot, and here is why:

Given the unspeakable violations of basic human rights that were committed in Myanmar, it goes without saying that most of us simply do not trust the intentions of the authorities of Myanmar. We just do not understand, what has changed that people who have been so badly treated by its own government will all of the sudden be welcome with open arms? Call me over-suspicious, but this worries me a lot. 

All repatriation process should be voluntary, safe, dignified, and people should be allowed to go to the places of origin. While the parties to the agreement (Myanmar and Bangladesh) state that this is going to be a case, there is no details on what will be done to ensure that the process is just that. A lot of us know that refugees are not willing to go back, as long as Myanmar would not grant them a right to unconditional citizenship, and would allow the community to refer to themselves as ‘Rohingya’. By any stretch of imagination, this is not going to happen. What will happen then? Will Bangladesh be forcing people to go against their will and fear of further prosecutions in Myanmar?

I even do not know where to start when it comes to issues of safety and dignity. It is just inconceivable how these would be assured with the level of hatred and condemnation that the Rohingya suffer in Myanmar. Our worries are even greater, given that no international agencies such as UNHCR (responsible for issues relating to refugees well-being) are allowed to participate in the process. Are the intentions of the parties to the agreement really genuine? If so, why not allowing the scrutiny of the international body that could oversee the process?

The deal has a potential backlash to the well-being of those who may not be repatriated for whatever reason. Will the authorities allow for delivering aid to NGOs and the UN agencies to people who would choose not to go, or will the refugees be ‘punished’ by being left without assistance, if they do not cooperate. 

Finally, given that the deal is between the two countries and does not involve the international community, I wonder where the resources for the dignified repatriation will come from. Who will pay for the transportation, who will provide for food and water to those travelling. Where would the funds come from for rebuilding the burnt houses and infrastructure, who would pay for helping people to rebuild their livelihoods and businesses? Who will look after the orphaned children, old or disabled? For the return to be safe and dignified, we need to think about this. 

All in all… I am not optimistic, and I worry that once again, the politicians play with lives of those who are the weakest and defenceless. I wished that the future proved me wrong though!

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