November 24: Fleeing genocide by the Myanmar (Burmese) Military, the number of recent Rohingya refugees arriving in Bangladesh has surpassed 620,000. The US government has formally recognized Myanmar policies as “ethnic cleansing.” The world is waking up to the long history of persecution targeting this minority population. And yet, the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh have excluded UN agencies and even the Rohingya themselves from bilateral talks to “solve” the crisis. The result is an unworkable, fraudulent plan for repatriation.
Yesterday, on November 23, 2017 Bangladesh and Myanmar announced a repatriation agreement based on an earlier deal struck after the violent expulsion of nearly 250,000 Rohingya in 1992. There have been at least four mass expulsions of Rohingya in modern memory, but none of the agreements addressing previous crises solved the root causes of displacement: comprehensive civil rights restrictions that keep the Rohingya minority stateless, and the promotion of hate movements to marginalize and erase Rohingya and other Muslim minorities in Myanmar. Rohingya rights are routinely ignored.
Under international law, refugees have the right to be repatriated in their original villages and homes. However, the Burmese authorities have spoken about isolating any returnees in “model villages” which is surely a form of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camp. Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times has called the IDP camps for Rohingya “21st century concentration camps.” Like prisons, they do not permit residents to leave to work or attend school outside.
“The current announcement is not a repatriation plan but a repatriation fraud, stated Malik Mujahid, Chairman of Burma Task Force, a US-based coalition of NGOs. “Suffering Rohingya families certainly do not need more fraud or fiction. A real repatriation agreement must address Rohingya safety concerns by restoring their rights, not enclosing them in open air prisons.”
The Myanmar government has already announced that it is seizing the lands and properties left by Rohingya. Under law, such properties become property of the state and there has been no positive public discussion of either restoration or reparation.
Verification of identity is also an obstacle since many Rohingya fled burning homes and were unable to keep their documents. Myanmar authorities have made a series of contradictory statements about the verification process, but it is likely it will exclude a large percentage of refugees from returning. The Myanmar immigration minister, Myint Kyaing, has stated that only 300 returnees could be processed per day, which suggests a seven-year-long process of return.
“With the two nations still far apart in their views, and so many questions unanswered, the current plan seems neither viable nor sincere,” added Chairman Malik Mujahid. “Was this announcement timed to create the illusion of a settlement only three days before the Pope’s visit to the two countries? Instead of offering a fake fig leaf for the Pope’s visit, let more honest negotiations include Rohingya as well as UN agencies to solve this regional crisis. Rohingya should not be blamed for refusing to return under unsafe and unfair conditions.”
Based in downtown Chicago, Burma Task Force is a coalition of 19 American and Canadian Muslim organizations dedicated to ending the suffering of Myanmar’s Rohingya. For more information please visit: www.burmataskforce.org