Ro­hingya repa­tri­a­tion is a cal­lous PR stunt

▶ Forced re­turn is a fresh crime, which sets a dan­ger­ous prece­dent for the world’s refugees

The National - News - - OPINION -

The govern­ment of Myanmar is­sued a state­ment on Satur­day say­ing it had repa­tri­ated the first batch of Ro­hingya refugees – a fam­ily of five – from Bangladesh. This claim gen­er­ated im­me­di­ate scep­ti­cism among the UN refugee agency and Bangladeshi au­thor­i­ties. Diplo­mats and hu­man rights groups have ex­pressed grave con­cerns ever since the idea of repa­tri­at­ing nearly 700,000 Ro­hingya who have sought asy­lum in Bangladesh was first aired in Jan­uary. These men, women and chil­dren fled unimag­in­able per­se­cu­tion at the hands of Myanmar’s mil­i­tary, govern­ment and Bud­dhist ma­jor­ity. De­nied cit­i­zen­ship in a coun­try that has been their home for cen­turies and de­hu­man­ised by the state for decades, the Ro­hingya were last year com­pelled to flee en masse as their vil­lages were burnt down, their homes razed, their women raped and more than 10,000 slaugh­tered in what the Myanmar govern­ment shame­lessly branded “clear­ance op­er­a­tions”.

Myanmar’s mur­der­ous rage against the Ro­hingya has not dis­si­pated and there is not even a hint of re­morse on the part of the govern­ment. Be­fore any repa­tri­a­tion oc­curs, there must be an ac­cep­tance of the crimes com­mit­ted against the Ro­hingya and a com­mit­ment by the govern­ment to grant them full cit­i­zen­ship, equal­ity un­der law and pro­tec­tion from the mobs it has in­cited. On the eve of the first repa­tri­a­tion, none of this had hap­pened. While the world’s at­ten­tion has been trained on con­flicts elsewhere, the con­di­tion of the Ro­hingya has con­tin­ued to de­te­ri­o­rate. Un­der such cir­cum­stances, their forced repa­tri­a­tion is not a rem­edy but rather a con­tin­u­a­tion of the Myanmar govern­ment’s bru­tal­ity. The ill-con­sid­ered Jan­uary deal with Bangladesh to repa­tri­ate 1,500 Ro­hingya a week – which would have taken al­most a decade to bring home all the refugees – went nowhere. In­stead of revising the plan and tak­ing proac­tive mea­sures to im­prove the safety of the Ro­hingya, the Myanmar govern­ment has re­sorted to sub­terfuge.

The fam­ily “repa­tri­ated” on Satur­day was part of the 6,000 dis­placed Ro­hingya stranded in a camp on the Myanmar side of the no-man’s land that sep­a­rates the coun­try from Bangladesh. They were not re­turnees. The UN refugee agency was kept in the dark and Bangladesh says it had no in­volve­ment. Far from pro­vid­ing gen­uine help, the Myanmar govern­ment was en­gaged in a self-serv­ing PR ex­er­cise that has back­fired. It seems that Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto ruler, has not learnt any lessons. Her govern­ment wants to erase this prob­lem, not fix it. What will be­come of the fam­ily that has been re­turned to Rakhine state? Last week, the UAE pledged Dh7.35 mil­lion in aid to the Ro­hingya. Oth­ers should fol­low, mind­ful that this rep­re­sents a yard­stick against which fu­ture refugee repa­tri­a­tions – in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere – will be mea­sured. The pres­sure on Myanmar to do the right thing must not ease.

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