Bangladesh has agreed to a request from Myanmar officials to replace the words “Myanmar nationals” with “displaced persons from Rakhine state” on identity cards issued to Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, a Bangladeshi official told BenarNews.
Dhaka agreed to the change during meetings this weekend in Myanmar between Bangladesh Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali and Kyaw Tint Swe, the minister of Myanmar’s State Counselor’s Office.
A high-profile delegation led by Ali on Saturday toured Maungdaw township in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, the site of last year’s military crackdown that prompted one of the world’s worst refugee crises in decades.
“While discussing the repatriation issues at the ministerial meeting, Myanmar raised objection about the words used in the identity card we issued for the Rohingya now living in Cox’s Bazar,” a member of the Bangladeshi delegation told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.
Myanmar emphasized during the meeting that in line with an agreement signed in Naypyidaw on Nov. 23 2017, the people who fled to Bangladesh from Rakhine “are not Myanmar citizens, but they used to live in Rakhine,” the source said.
“We listened to them, and agreed to change the identity of those living in Cox’s Bazar as ‘displaced persons from Rakhine state,’” he said. He did not make it clear when Dhaka would issue the new cards reflecting the agreed changes.
Nor was it clear how the decision would affect a joint effort announced in June by U.N. and Bangladeshi officials to issue new ID cards to all Rohingya refugees older than 12 after verifying their identities.
Refugees refuse to return without safety guarantees
Rohingya leaders expressed concerns that Myanmar’s latest move could “obliterate” their historical rights.
“We are Rohingya. We are Myanmar nationals. We do not belong to Bangladesh,” Mohammad Afzal, a leader of Balukhali refugee camp, told BenarNews in a phone interview. “Bangladesh has refrained from calling us Rohingya because of Myanmar’s objection. Now, they won’t call us Myanmar nationals?”
Buddhist-majority Myanmar considers the Rohingya illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
Humayun Kabir, a former ambassador and vice president of private think-tank Bangladesh Enterprise Institute told BenarNews that Naypyitaw’s demand for Dhaka to drop the word “Myanmar national” from the Rohingya ID cards seeks to “bring uniformity in the nomenclature officially used by Bangladesh and Myanmar.”
“This is not a big issue,” he said. “The most important issue is safe and sustainable repatriation of the Rohingya.”
Ali and his delegation visited the villages to verify Myanmar’s preparation for the planned repatriation of the Rohingya refugees, about 700,000 of whom fled to southeastern Bangladesh starting a year ago as a result of a military campaign that the United States and the United Nations have condemned as ethnic cleansing.
The crackdown followed attacks by Rohingya insurgents on police outposts in August 2017.
The refugees live in rudimentary shelters on tree-stripped hills in southeastern Cox’s Bazar district, joining about 400,000 others who had fled earlier waves of violence in Myanmar.
Although Bangladesh and Myanmar formally agreed almost nine months ago to work together to start repatriation, no Rohingya has officially returned. Rohingya leaders have told BenarNews in previous interviews that they do not intend to go back until their safety is guaranteed.