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Beijing Offers to Help Arrange Myanmar Visit for Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

Jesmin Papri and Abdur Rahman
Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
2019-09-16
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Li Jiming (right), China’s new ambassador to Bangladesh, addresses Rohingya leaders during a meeting at the Shalbagan refugee camp in Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar, Sept. 16, 2019.
Li Jiming (right), China’s new ambassador to Bangladesh, addresses Rohingya leaders during a meeting at the Shalbagan refugee camp in Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar, Sept. 16, 2019.
[Abdur Rahman/BenarNews]

China has offered to facilitate a visit by a group of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar’s Rakhine state to check the situation there, a senior Bangladeshi official said, while Rohingya leaders and authorities in Dhaka have signaled support for the proposal.

Word of the proposal emerged as a United Nations fact-finding mission on Myanmar issued a report stating that more than half a million Rohingya who remain in that country faced “systematic persecution” and the “threat of genocide.”

Li Jiming, the new Chinese ambassador to Bangladesh, made the proposal while meeting with Rohingya refugees on Monday during his first visit to southeastern Cox’s Bazar district as Beijing’s envoy.

“The Chinese delegation headed by the ambassador has proposed forming a group of the Rohingya and sending them to Rakhine state to see the situation there. The Rohingya leaders have consented to the proposal,” Shamsu Douza Nayan, an additional commissioner at the local Office of Refugee Relief and Repatriation, who was at the meeting, told BenarNews.

The proposal came nearly a month after Chinese embassy officials were on hand in southeastern Bangladesh as a second attempt by Dhaka and Naypyidaw to repatriate Rohingya refugees from camps in Cox’s Bazar failed.

Almost all 332 Rohingya families who were interviewed by the U.N. and on a list of more than 3,000 Rohingya slated for voluntary repatriation had expressed “their deep concern over the security situation in Rakhine,” Bangladesh’s foreign ministry said.

The Chinese envoy arrived in the border region on Sunday and met with Rohingya leaders the next day at the Shalbagan refugee camp in Teknaf, a sub-district of Cox’s Bazar.

“We also proposed that two separate teams of Bangladesh government officials and the U.N. agencies would also visit Rakhine at the time of the proposed visit by the Rohingya delegation. We have requested the ambassador to discuss the proposal with the government high-ups in Myanmar and China, and let us know,” Nayan said.

Md Jasim, a Rohingya leader, attended Monday’s meeting with the Chinese ambassador.

Li “proposed that they [the Chinese] would send a team of the Rohingya to Myanmar with the help of Bangladesh’s government. We at the meeting with the ambassador consented to his proposal,” Jasim told BenarNews.

Chinese officials could not be reached immediately on Monday to confirm this information.

After briefing foreign diplomats in Dhaka about the Rohingya issue, Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen told reporters on Aug. 30 that Myanmar could facilitate a visit by Rohingya refugees to Rakhine state to witness the situation there.

In Geneva on Monday, the U.N.’s Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar warned in a new report that the 600,000 Rohingya left over in Myanmar were still being persecuted and in great peril.

“The threat of genocide continues for the remaining Rohingya,” said Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the Fact-Finding Mission. “Myanmar is failing in its obligation to prevent genocide, to investigate genocide and to enact effective legislation criminalizing and punishing genocide.”

The mission’s 120-page report, based on interviews with 1,300 victims and witnesses, details alleged human rights abuses committed in Myanmar against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities.

More than 740,000 stateless Rohingya fled to southeastern Bangladesh after Myanmar launched a brutal offensive in Rakhine in late August 2017, in the wake of deadly attacks mounted by Rohingya insurgents against police and military outposts in the state. The United Nations and United States had both described the offensive as “ethnic cleansing.”

In Myanmar, a spokesman for the military rejected the U.N. team’s findings about the Rohingya.

“You can see the truth if you look at the situation on the ground. If there were persecutions, they could not be kept hidden. These people continue to live there because there is no persecution in reality,” Brig. Gen. Zaw Min Tun said Monday, according to the Myanmar Service of Radio Free Asia. BenarNews is affiliated with RFA.

“These critics are making accusations from outside the country without actually observing the situation on the ground,” he said. “It hurts the dignity of the ruling government.”

Kyaw Win, CEO of the Burma Human Rights Network, who was in Geneva, welcomed the report released by the fact-finding mission.

“They want to present the crimes committed by the military primarily. They classified them as genocide,” he told RFA, adding that the mission was preparing the way for the potential international prosecution of Myanmar’s military chief, Min Aung Hlaing, and other top brass.

Visit by American ambassador

The visit to Cox’s Bazar by China’s ambassador overlapped with a separate visit to the region by Earl. R. Miller, the U.S. envoy to Bangladesh.

In a statement issued on Monday, the U.S. Embassy said Miller visited the region from Sept. 13-15, during which he met with organizations assisting Rohingya refugees and communities that host refugees.

“The United States recognizes the challenges the refugee crisis has posed for local communities and the Government of Bangladesh,” the embassy said, thanking the country’s people and government for “opening their hearts and borders to vulnerable Rohingya refugees.”

Earl R. Miller, the U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh, watches a Bangladeshi man make clay pots during a visit to Cox’s Bazar district, Sept. 15, 2019. [Courtesy of U.S. Embassy in Dhaka]
Earl R. Miller, the U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh, watches a Bangladeshi man make clay pots during a visit to Cox’s Bazar district, Sept. 15, 2019. [Courtesy of U.S. Embassy in Dhaka]

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