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Rohingya repatriation? As ICJ hearing draws nearer, Myanmar begins to 'show concern'

By Sumaiya Jannat 

On April 24, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) will hear Gambia's case of Rohingya torture against Myanmar. And before that, Naypyidaw wants to start repatriation of Rohingyas to keep the attitude of the court in their favor. The country has sent a technical team to quickly verify the Rohingya. Earlier, the country had adopted the same strategy.
A 17-member technical team from Myanmar arrived in Bangladesh a few days back. The delegation was divided into four groups and is scrutinizing the Rohingya. They sought to conduct last-minute verification of the Rohingyas who have already been verified. This verification lasted for five days.
The counter-memorial or reply to the allegations raised against Myanmar should be made in the hearing of the ICJ in April. As a result, Naypyidaw appears to be seeking to repatriate some Rohingya before that to show progress in the court.
Bangladesh is not looking at Myanmar's activities with simple eyes. Dhaka has been pressuring Myanmar to start repatriation for a long time. But the country never paid attention to it. Now that the court hearing has come, their roar has increased. Although preparing to take the first batch, there is no guidance from Myanmar on when to take the second batch, who to take or when to complete the verification. As a result, repatriation to the court has started but it is not regular.
The pilot project to start repatriation under the trilateral initiative with the participation of China was taken up in October 2021. At that time, Myanmar gave two lists of 711 Muslim and 317 Hindu Rohingya. It can be seen that if the Muslim Rohingyas are repatriated, many will be separated from their families. Bangladesh objected to it. Because no Rohingya will go back unless the whole family goes together. At that time, Myanmar expressed its interest to take back 440 Hindu Rohingyas staying in Bangladesh first. But Dhaka does not agree to this.
Naypyidaw is playing the religious card. An example of this is the repatriation of all Hindu Rohingyas together. In this case, Bangladesh fears that Myanmar may spread anti-Muslim propaganda. Hindu Rohingya will go, but gradually. Myanmar says it is under pressure from a neighbouring state to take back the Hindu Rohingya. Neighbouring countries have built houses for the Hindu Rohingyas by spending huge sums of money. They want to ensure that the Hindu Rohingyas get that share first.
Last July, the ICJ dismissed Naypyidaw's four objections. The court ruled to continue the case against Myanmar. They want to repatriate with that in mind, so that they can present something positive in court. As it did before the 2022 court hearing. In February that year, Naypyidaw sat in on the Joint Working Group meeting, and presented it to the court.
Myanmar's sudden push for repatriation cannot be taken lightly. If they really wanted to repatriate, the country would have completed the selection of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in the beginning, so that the Rohingyas can be repatriated within a specific time interval of 1-2 months.
If the repatriation is regular, the confidence of the Rohingya will return. They will be encouraged to go. And if it doesn't, it's doubtful how durable the first mover will be.
When asked who will take care of the first batch when they go to Rakhine, a concerned official said, ASEAN has a monitoring office in Rakhine. They will monitor the situation of the Rohingyas. Also, the United Nations will take care of the Rohingyas. However, since the transportation system is not convenient, the United Nations must gain speed to do this work.
So far, Bangladesh has provided complete information of about 830,000 Rohingya to Myanmar. Out of this, only 7-8 percent, about 70 thousand Rohingyas have been verified by the country. Naypyidaw has given a green signal for 52 percent of these 70,000 Rohingyas.
Myanmar finally sent a delegation to take back the Rohingyas who fled to Bangladesh in the face of violence in Myanmar. The delegation came to Teknaf in Cox's Bazar district of Bangladesh on March 15 to re-verify the information of the Rohingya who were listed for repatriation.
In 2018, Bangladesh sent a list of 888,000 Rohingya refugees to Myanmar with the aim of repatriating Rohingya. Then a return list of 68,000 Rohingyas was sent by Myanmar. From that list, 1140 people were initially selected for family-based repatriation. Of these, Myanmar agreed to the repatriation of 711 Rohingyas, but had objections to the remaining 429.
Any member of the same family from that initial repatriation list moves to the exclusion list. The delegation has come to Bangladesh this time to re-verify the information of 429 Rohingyas who were excluded when the matter was informed to Myanmar. Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC) Commissioner Mizanur Rahman confirmed this information.
They have sought proper resettlement, dignified citizenship rights, free movement and recognition as Rohingyas
Again, many Rohingya families in that list have given birth to new children. He said it could be considered to record the data of those children as well. The members of this technical team will mainly verify the list of Rohingyas. They interviewed at least 65 Rohingyas on the first day on Wednesday. It is estimated that it may take 5-6 days to verify all the information.
However, the members of the delegation only interviewed the Rohingyas. One of them said that they are not saying anything about repatriation. The repatriation of the Rohingyas was supposed to start twice before, but it was not possible due to objections regarding the security of the Rohingyas.
Two Rohingyas who took part in the interview told BBC Bangla on condition of anonymity that the representatives of Myanmar asked them if they want to return to their country of Myanmar. In response, one said, "Myanmar is my country, why don't I want to return? Bangladesh is not my country. I want to return to motherland again. But we have spoken about some of our demands."
Like him, most Rohingya have sought safety in Myanmar if they return to Myanmar. They have also sought proper resettlement, dignified citizenship rights, free movement and recognition as Rohingyas where their houses have been burnt down. “If they give us security, freedom of movement, civil facilities, houses-places-land make us like before we will definitely go. They burned us all," said a Rohingya.
As evidence of Myanmar citizenship, Rohingya members were asked to show their Myanmar land-deeds, Myanmar-sealed documents, etc. Also various information about their name, identity, address, occupation etc. is taken.
The Rohingya returned with an interview and said, "They asked us various questions such as which area of Myanmar we were in, where we were, in which district, which police station, which mauza, who was the chairman there, who were the assembly members. We have shown our land papers. I could not show many papers. burned.”
However, none of the delegation said anything about whether they will be taken back at all. After 25th August 2017, millions of Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh in the face of violence for the next few months. The Rohingyas who escaped at different times also took refuge in Bangladesh. In total, there are about 1.2 million Rohingya who have been transferred to 33 camps in Ukhia and Teknaf and Bhasanchar.
Although various efforts have been made for the repatriation of these Rohingyas for the past six years, the Bangladesh government has not been able to send even a single Rohingya back to their country. The agreement on repatriation was signed on November 23, 2017, three months after the Rohingya fled from Myanmar. For this reason, a joint working committee of the two countries was formed in Dhaka on December 19 of the same year for the repatriation of Rohingya.
It was supposed to start the repatriation process within two months of signing the agreement. But Myanmar's list has been delayed in the name of verification. An attempt to initiate a round of repatriation in 2018 failed. Later, through the mediation of China, there was an attempt to start repatriation again in 2019, but the Rohingyas did not agree to return, citing concerns about the environment in Rakhine State.
Then in February 2021, Myanmar's military seized power through a coup. This brought the repatriation talks to a standstill. As a result, the repatriation of Rohingyas became uncertain. Later, in the face of international pressure, the country's government repeatedly assured, but so far no initiative has been seen in repatriation.
Mizanur Rahman, Commissioner of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC) sees this verification step of Myanmar very positively. He said, “It is definitely a positive response. It was stopped for so long. Now there is a movement. This may advance the repatriation process. But that's a higher-level decision."
Delegates who arrived had no authority to comment on repatriation, only conduct interviews. He said that they will not participate in any program like visiting the camp or holding meetings.

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