The Ministry of Foreign Affairs held a press conference on the repatriation of displaced people from Bangladesh to Rakhine State in Nay Pyi Taw yesterday.
Review of the situation on the ground
Permanent Secretary U Myint Thu from MOFA answered questions from the media. He said the press conference aimed to explain the first phase of repatriation between Myanmar and Bangladesh, which begins today.
U Myint Thu said he attended the third Myanmar-Bangladesh Joint-Working Group meeting in Dhaka on 30 October. He said an agreement was made to repatriate 2,261 people as the first batch of returnees on 15 November.
He said the 2,261 people slated to return to Rakhine state were on a list of 8,032 people sent by Bangladesh and were scrutinized at the Home Affairs Ministerial meeting held in Dhaka in February this year.
U Myint Thu said Bangladesh has informed Myanmar that the first batch of displaced people will return by sea route to the Nga Khu Ya Reception Centre, and later, they informed that they will be taken to the Taung Pyo Letwe Reception Centre by road. He said Myanmar had completed preparations for their return.
The permanent secretary said that SWRR Union Minister Dr. Win Myat Aye had talked about his visit to the centres for repatriation and given information about them at a recent press conference in Yangon. Physical arrangements are complete on Myanmar’s side and the 2,261 returnees will be accepted starting 7am, yesterday, said U Myint Thu.
He said officials are already in place at the Taung Pyo Letwe friendship bridge gate to welcome the returnees. The officials include Rakhine State’s Minister for Security and Border Affairs Col. Phone Tint, who is also the Joint-Chairman of the Working Committee for Repatriation of Displaced People, and Rakhine State’s Minister of Electricity, Industry, and Transportation U Aung Kyaw Zan, said U Myint Thu.
He added that Union Ministers Dr. Win Myat Aye and U Thein Swe, Rakhine State Chief Minister U Nyi Pu, Deputy Minister U Soe Aung, and other officials have also arrived at the Taung Pyo Letwe Reception Centre.
U Myint Thu said although preparations for receiving the returnees are complete, Bangladesh has still not sent any people. He offered his opinion that Bangladesh could not complete the physical arrangements thoroughly.
He said the list of 8,032 people was not filled out by the intended people themselves, and it is because of this that unnecessary delays are occurring.
U Myint Thu said he met with representatives of the displaced people in Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar on 31 October. He also met with Hindu representatives and said there are 438 Hindu people there that wish to return as soon as possible.
Possible causes for delay
The permanent secretary said the displaced people can be divided into three groups. The first group has people who wish to travel to a third country, such as Canada, from Bangladesh. This group may not have any desire to return to Myanmar, he said.
The second group has people who were involved in the ARSA terrorist attacks that occurred in 2016 and 2017, said U Myint Thu. He said these are the villagers who were recruited into ARSA to attack the 30 police posts and an army base. He said this group may not wish to return to Myanmar too.
The third group comprises of people who have homes and relatives left behind, own fields and fishing boats and have a business of their own. These people have the desire to return to Myanmar, said U Myint Thu.
He said applying pressure to those who do not wish to return won’t yield any results. Sending back people who wish to voluntarily return will start the repatriation process, he said.
U Myint Thu said they will cooperate with neighboring countries and mentioned that China had donated 1,110 houses in the last month while India donated 250 and Japan donated houses too. He mentioned that ASEAN countries have announced they will provide support in Northern Rakhine as well. He said the AHA Centre in Indonesia offered an invitation to cooperate with Myanmar during the 33rd ASEAN Summit held in Singapore recently. He said they will accept the offer.
U Myint Thu said they are also working together with UNDP and UNHCR in line with the MoU signed with them on 6 June 2018. He said they have conducted two Rapid Needs Assessments in Northern Rakhine in September and October. He said they regularly hold technical working group meetings with UNDP and UNHCR and will continue cooperation processes.
He repeated himself and said the union ministers, Rakhine State chief minister and other officials are already in place at the Taung Pyo Letwe Reception Centre for the repatriation process which begins today.
He said they will follow the signed arrangement with Bangladesh and cooperate in the repatriation process. He said they will ensure the repatriation is voluntary, safe and dignified for the returnees.
He said he hopes the UNHCR does not operate in a hindering way regarding the repatriating of people who truly wish to return. He concluded by saying they will continue cooperating with Bangladesh in the repatriation process. He then replied to questions from the media.
Also attending the press conference were Permanent Secretary U Myo Myint Maung from the Ministry of Information, Director-General U Ko Ko Naing from the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, department officials, and local and foreign media members.