Beijing has proposed a fresh tripartite meeting with Bangladesh and Myanmar to jumpstart the repatriation of Rohingya Muslims, Bangladesh’s foreign minister said Thursday, as pressure mounted for the two neighboring countries to find a solution to the refugee crisis.
China’s proposal came a week after a second attempt to return thousands of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar from camps in southeastern Bangladesh collapsed, amid criticism from rights groups and the United Nations that Naypyidaw had not provided guarantees for the safe return of the refugees.
“We are yet to fix the date and venue,” Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen told BenarNews after his first meeting at the foreign ministry with newly appointed Chinese envoy Li Jiming.
Momen said that the Chinese ambassador made the proposal.
“Now he will talk to Myanmar about the meeting and then he will let us know,” Momen said, referring to Li.
It would not be the first time for China to arrange a tripartite meeting about the Rohingya, according to Momen, who explained that two meetings had earlier taken place – one in New York and the other in Beijing.
Foreign ministry officials told BenarNews that those meetings took place in June and October 2018, but bore no fruit as Dhaka and Naypyidaw failed to narrow down their differences on repatriation.
As he emerged from his meeting with Momen on Thursday, the Chinese diplomat told reporters that they had discussed “many important issues,” including a “sustainable repatriation” of the Rohingya refugees. He did not elaborate.
Amnesty to Dhaka: Ease restrictions on Rohingya
Around 740,000 members of the stateless Rohingya Muslims had fled to southeastern Bangladesh during a brutal military offensive launched in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in late August 2017.
Last week, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) and Bangladesh officials said that none of those interviewed among the 3,450 people cleared for repatriation were willing to go back to Myanmar.
This week, rights groups issued separate statements to mark the second anniversary of the brutal military offensive, which the United States and the United Nations had described as “ethnic cleansing.”
Amnesty International called on the Bangladeshi government to lift restrictions that limit the enjoyment of the refugees’ rights, as the watchdog also urged the international community to support Dhaka’s efforts in pursuing longer-term solutions to help the refugees rebuild their lives.
“The Bangladeshi government refuses to accept that Rohingya refugees may not be able to return to Myanmar for some time and places restrictions on their lives, including denying children the right to quality education,” Biraj Patnaik, South Asia director at Amnesty International, said in a statement Thursday.
“The Bangladeshi government and international community need to understand that Rohingya want more than just to survive,” Patnaik said. “They must take measures to help this traumatized population live fulfilling, dignified lives where they have access to the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.”
Phil Robertson, a deputy director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), urged the Myanmar government on Wednesday to address the root causes of the refugee crisis, including the systematic persecution and violence allegedly committed by Naypyidaw’s security forces against the Muslim minorities.
“Refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they wanted to go home but feared returning under the current conditions,” Robertson said in a statement.
As part of the repatriation process, returnees are required to sign up for a digitized National Verification Card, which identifies them as foreigners in Myanmar without promising eventual citizenship, he said.
“Without rights of citizenship the Rohingya said they would face further oppression and discrimination,” Robertson said.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar considers the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Myanmar has denied them access to jobs, education, and health care, as well as refused to grant them citizenship, although many have lived in the country for generations.
‘Third party’ role for China
During Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Beijing last month, she was told by Chinese President Xi Jinping and her counterpart, Li Keqiang, that a sustainable repatriation to Rakhine was the best solution to the Rohingya crisis, Momen told BenarNews.
“The Chinese ambassador came to my office and reiterated their position,” he said.
Momen also quoted the Chinese diplomat as saying that “China has been with you so that you, Myanmar and Bangladesh can jointly resolve the problem.”
When asked what role China would play in the repatriation process, Momen told BenarNews that Beijing would be participating as a “third party” that would help settle the differences between the two neighboring nations.
Also on Thursday, Momen briefed Dhaka-based foreign diplomats and representatives of donor NGOs about the failure to start the second repatriation on Aug. 22.
Dhaka handed a list of 3,450 individuals approved for repatriation to UNHCR on Aug. 8, and the refugee agency interviewed 332 families comprising 1,276 individuals, according to Bangladeshi officials.
But Rohingya leaders campaigned against repatriation, with many of them saying they would not return without guarantees for their safety and assurances from Myanmar that they would be granted citizenship.
“The non-commencement of repatriation due to unwillingness of the people concerned is fully attributable to the failure of the government of Myanmar in fulfilling its obligations,” Momen said.
“It is Myanmar’s responsibility to create a conducive environment in Rakhine through decisive actions,” he said.