The United Nations and Amnesty International have condemned the agreement signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar for the repatriation of Rohingyan refugees that took place in the presence of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, even before the ink is dry.
The crux of the agreement is to resume the repatriation of the ‘Myanmar citizens’ who have been driven away from their homes, in two months. Myanmar has displayed utmost diligence in not using the term Rohingyan throughout the MOU. To the question as to how long it would take to complete the repatriation process, Abdul Hassan Mahmood Ali, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh responded that they ‘have to start working’ first. The media queries whether the Rakhine state, the home of Rohingya would be given back to them or they would be sent back to the extremely pathetic refugee camps were also met with silence.
That is why Amnesty Director Kathy Alan warns that returning the Rohingya to Myanmar where a system of apartheid exists, would be highly perilous and tragic. UN spokesperson Adrian Edwards said that a return to Rakhine when conditions existing there could not ensure ‘safe and sustainable returns’, was “unthinkable”. He says that refugees are still fleeing and suffering physical torture, gang rapes and deep psychological harm in the camps of Myanmar. He wonders what credibility the new MOU has when the Myanmar government does not provide any assurance about the safety of even those currently in the country.
It is America’s fear of China and its political agenda to have control over Myanmar that are behind the repatriation deal formed in haste without any sincerity and keeping away the UN and the Rohingyan human rights organisations. It is believed that China’s intervention would hurt the interests of America and India in resolving the Rohingyan refugee crisis. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was quick to react to the three-phase solution put forth by China’s Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi the other day to resolve the crisis such as achieving a ceasefire in the first phase followed by the return of refugees and a long-term solution in the final phase. Tillerson criticized that the recommendations put forward by China which did not intervene in resolving the violence occurring in Rakhine state were not sincere. Tillerson who called the Rohingya crisis an ‘ethnic cleansing’, called for Suu Kyi and Bangladesh to take an initiative to solve the crisis.
The treaty with Bangladesh was in fact the last fig leaf before Suu Kyi to save face when international pressures became irresistible. And in the context of Pope Francis's visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh, there was also strong pressure from the Vatican on both countries for a sympathetic conclusion in the Rohingyan issue. And for its part, Bangladesh has also been wishing to compel the Myanmar forces to check the increasing refugee influx from the southern Caucasus region. Thus the Rohingya MOU that does not ensure any benefit for the Rohingyans, has only succeeded in framing a bilateral strategy for Myanmar and Bangladesh as a cosmetic and to score a temporary political victory.
The roots of the problem of Rohingya, as Amnesty pointed out lies in the Burma Citizenship Law, which the Myanmar military junta amended in 1982. It will be meaningless to attempt reconciliation talks and repatriation, without annulling the provisions that divide the citizens into three categories. The 1978 agreement did not confer any benefit on the 2,50,000 Rohingyan refugees. The 1992 deal was of no help either, to the 2,00,000 refugees who had become victim to the riots until then. And now the new MOU is not going to offer any succour to the 6,00,000 refugees who fled the ethnic cleansing which the military calls a Clearance Operation. If Suu Kyi and Amercia are sincere about a solution to the problem, they should pursue the matter through reinstatement of their citizenship, and by ensuring the security and full citizenship of those who remain in Rakhine. But is there anything more absurd than expecting reconciliation and resolution from Aung San Suu Kyi who is persistent in not using the very term Rohingyan?