Debating the Future of Rohingyas: Return or Resettlement?

While it is important for Rohingyas to return to their own country, it is also important to ensure that their civil rights are not further violated.

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Kutupalong Refugee Camp, Cox's Bazar Teknaf Highway, Bangladesh [Photo Credit: SH Saw Myint/Unsplash]

The issue of whether Rohingyas should return to their motherland Myanmar is a complex one, and the recent discussions about repatriation have sparked debate. The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR has registered approximately 1 million Rohingyas who are currently residing in Bangladesh. A pilot project to repatriate over 1,100 Rohingya refugees is currently in discussion, with both Bangladesh and Myanmar seeking to start the repatriation before the monsoon season, mediated by China. However, the Rohingyas’ return is contingent upon whether Myanmar provides an environment supportive of repatriation.

According to media reports, the Rohingyas did not see a supportive environment for repatriation when they visited Myanmar. Nevertheless, Bangladesh is optimistic about the possibility of Rohingya repatriation. The Bangladesh foreign ministry has stated that upon their return, each family will be given a house in the model village, land for agriculture, fertilizer, and seeds. The model village of Mangdu offers better living conditions than the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh, with hospitals, mosques, and playgrounds being constructed for them. The Rohingyas will also have the opportunity to work and do business independently. Myanmar authorities have stated that Rohingyas returning from Bangladesh will be kept at the Maungdu transit center for only three days before being transferred directly to the model village. There, they will be issued National Verification Certificates (NVCs) as citizens of Myanmar, with the National Identity Card (NID) being issued in phases if they can show the necessary documents as residents of Myanmar.

During the visit, some members of the Rohingya delegation opposed the NVC and demanded resettlement in Janmvita instead of NID and Model Village. However, most of the members of the Bangladesh delegation accompanying the Rohingya expressed satisfaction with the environment. They claimed that the environment and situation in Rakhine were good, and the Rohingyas roamed freely in Maungdoo city, busy with work. Bangladesh’s Commissioner for Refugees, Relief, and Repatriation, Mohammad Mizanur Rahman, said that the environment was very good and that they were optimistic about starting the repatriation process as soon as possible.

While it is important for Rohingyas to return to their own country, it is also important to ensure that their civil rights are not further violated. An entire population cannot live as refugees of another country for years, deprived of their natural civil rights. Rohingyas have the right to return to their own country, their land, and their homes, where they will work with full civil rights to build a better life and a better future for themselves and their children. The programme may be seen as a start of the long-overdue repatriation process, which may build confidence for future repatriation in greater numbers. However, it is crucial to remember that it is only the beginning. If the initiative is successful, more Rohingyas will follow and return to their ancestral home.

Over 80% of the refugees in Cox’s Bazar rely on external aid to survive. Every family gets a monthly food ration of Tk 1,030 per person. Rohingyas have repeatedly stated that running a family with this allocation is very difficult. The influx of refugees has also put immense pressure on the host communities and the environment in a densely populated country. The host communities in Cox’s Bazar are highly vulnerable and at high risk of hunger like the Rohingyas, according to a WFP report.

The Rohingya’s willingness to return to Myanmar is also a factor that must be considered. They may be afraid and unwilling to return if their rights will be violated further. Bangladesh will have to deal with this refugee crisis for potentially years to come, involving funding, administration, inclusive and equitable treatment of the refugees and host populations, and national security issues, among others.

It is difficult for us to shelter this huge population for very long. Therefore, it is essential to find a permanent solution to this crisis through repatriation and rehabilitation. However, it should be done in a safe, voluntary, and dignified manner with the full participation and cooperation of the Rohingyas themselves. Any repatriation initiative must address the root causes of the crisis and ensure that Rohingyas can live safely and with full citizenship rights in their own country. Until then, the international community should continue to support Bangladesh in providing essential services and protection to the refugees while also pressing Myanmar to create a conducive environment for their safe return. The repatriation of Rohingyas is not only a moral obligation but also a necessary step for regional peace and stability.

Erina Haque

Erina Haque is a researcher, analyst and freelance contributor and columnist.

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