The leading southeast Asian intergovernmental body, ASEAN, has expressed desire to lead the repatriation move of the persecuted Rohingya people living in congested refugee makeshift camps in southern Bangladesh following military crackdowns in Myanmar’s Rakhine state massively since August 2017.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) put forward the intent on Wednesday night following meeting between Thai foreign minister Don Pramudwinai and his Bangladesh counterpart AK Abdul Momen in Dhaka on Wednesday night.
‘Thailand is the current chair of ASEAN. They want take a leading role in repatriation of Rohingya people,’ Momen said in a press briefing after the meeting.
Bangladesh side in the meeting stressed the need on ensuring safety and security and creating an atmosphere conducive for return to Rakhine at the earliest, he said as the prospective returnees were concerned about their security in Rakhine.
Thai minister informed the Bangladesh authorities that they had sent delegation to visit villages in Rakhine.
Momen, however, said the Myanmar authorities took foreign delegations to villages which were not damaged during atrocities.
The Thai minister, however, did not attend the press briefing.
Replying to a question on creating a ‘safe zone’ in Rakhine for Rohingya people, the Thai minister agreed with the idea of ‘safe zone’, but they wanted to use different words as ‘safe zone carries some connotations and some quarters were unwilling to agree with that.’
The Thai minister said they wanted to create an environment where the Rohingya people might feel safe to go back, Momen said.
More than 7,00,000 Rohingyas, mostly women, children and aged people, entered Bangladesh after fleeing unbridled murder, arson and rape during ‘security operations’ by Myanmar military in Rakhine, what the United Nations denounced as ethnic cleansing and genocide, beginning from August 25, 2017.
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an instrument on November 23, 2017, for repatriation of Rohingya people in safety, security and dignity who crossed over to Bangladesh from Rakhine State only after October 9, 2016, and August 25, 2017.
The UNHCR and the government failed in their first attempt for sending the first batch of Rohingya people on November 15 last year as nobody agreed to go back with referring to absence of environment for return in Rakhine as still then Myanmar authorities did not show any positive signal to restore the mass-demanded citizenship rights for Rohingya.
Still now Rohingya people are considered by Myanmar government as outsider Bengalis though Rohingya people have thousands years of golden history in Myanmar.
The ongoing Rohingya influx took the number of undocumented Myanmar nationals and registered refugees in Bangladesh to about 11,16,000, according to estimates by UN agencies and Bangladesh foreign ministry.
Foreign secretary Mahbub Uz Zaman, Bangladesh ambassador to Thailand Md Nazmul Quaunine and foreign ministry director general Md Delwar Hossain, among others, were present in the meeting.
Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam, which are also ASEAN members, earlier sent their ministerial level delegations expressing their intent to support the repatriation process.