Rohingyas must take the decision to return to Myanmar of their own accord, Bangladesh’s foreign secretary has said before the start of the first batch of repatriations from Cox’s Bazar to the Rakhine State on Nov 15. “It’s not Bangladesh’s decision. It’s not Myanmar’s decision and it’s not UNHCR’s decision. The return is a decision that must be taken by Rohingyas,” Md Shahidul Haque said. The UN has raised concerns about the nature of their return as agreed by Bangladesh and Myanmar last week.
He also asked everyone to not to make the matter “an issue” for Bangladesh.
“We have welcomed them and are doing what is necessary for them. They have to go back to their own country. I request that you dont make it an issue for Bangladesh.”
“What we can do is to create facilities for them (Rohingyas) so they can decide,” Haque said after a seminar on Bangladesh and the United Nations: Road Ahead in Dhaka on Sunday.
UN Resident Coordinator Mia Seppo and UNHCR, regional representative James Lynch were also present.
In response to a question, the resident coordinator said there is no gap between the Bangladesh foreign ministry and the UN agencies. “We are coordinating closely,” she said, a day after the foreign ministry called in the UNHCR Bangladesh head to discuss the UN spokesmans comments in New York.
After the third joint working group meeting in Dhaka on Wednesday, Bangladesh and Myanmar announced that the repatriation from Coxs Bazar would start in mid-November.
Later, Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for UN Secretary General António Guterres, said the announcement took the UN refugee agency by surprise as they had not been consulted, a claim that prompted Dhaka to ask the UNHRC chief to meet the director general of the UN wing on Saturday.
The foreign secretary said they have consulted with the UN bodies on the issue more than they (the UN) expected.
“Its a complex process. The beginning of this kind of process is vital. We want to start this,” he said, adding that they fixed Nov 15 as the starting date.
“Timeframes are sometimes good and sometimes not good. We both decided to have a timeframe. Our UN colleagues are there. They will help and facilitate.”
The UNHCR regional representative echoed the foreign secretary and said the return is an “individual decision” taken by refugees.
“Return should be done voluntarily and in safety and dignity. And the return should be sustainable. One of the major issues they raised is citizenship and the security of the place of origin where they will return,” he said.
“The return will be sustainable and they will be physically safe. And the UN and other bodies will be able to have effective and continued access.
“We are working with the government of Myanmar. We have signed a MoU with the UNDP and are trying to have access the villages where the displacement took place to see the conditions are conducive for return and the Kofi Annan commissions recommendations are implemented in their full spirit.”
“These are the things we are working with the government,” he said.
Over 700,000 Rohingyas fled a brutal military crackdown in Myanmars Rakhine State in August of last year.
Myanmar and Bangladesh then signed deals to begin the repatriation effort last December.