The first meeting of the joint working group (JWG) for the repatriation of displaced Myanmar residents from Bangladesh was held on 15 January in the office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nay Pyi Taw. An official of the group explained the status of the efforts undertaken for the repatriation of displaced Myanmar residents from Bangladesh.
U Myint Thu, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Yesterday, we discussed the repatriation of the displaced Myanmar residents from Bangladesh with the permanent secretary of Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I want to explain this further. On 23 November, 2017, a meeting at the level of the Minister of Foreign Affairs was held. Myanmar’s side was led by Union Minister for the Ministry of State Counsellor’s Office U Kyaw Tint Swe, and the Bangladesh side was led by its Minister of Foreign Affairs. During the meeting, a framework arrangement for the return of displaced persons from the Rakhine State was signed at the ministerial level. Based on this framework arrangement, a high-level meeting was conducted in Dhaka. I led the Myanmar delegation to the meeting, and the Bangladesh side was led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs secretary. The term of reference (TOR) for the repatriation was signed at that meeting. The framework agreement signed on 23 November 2017, stated that the repatriation process will start within two months of the signing of the framework agreement.
A bilateral discussion on the physical arrangements for the repatriation process, which will begin on 23 January 2018, was held yesterday. The format of the verification form that will be used during the repatriation was also exchanged at the meeting, with the other side presenting their suggested format while we presented them with our suggested format. The (repatriation) process can be said to have started today, as the high-level officials signed the agreement this morning. At the meeting, we also provided them with a list of 508 Hindus from Myanmar who were displaced to Bangladesh, as well as a list of more than 700 persons who are known to be residing in the northern Rakhine State. We provided these lists so that their side can make the necessary preparations to start the repatriation as soon as possible. As we all know, the international media has severely criticised Myanmar for going slow with the repatriation work. We want to show them that this is not the case. We have already arranged to have two repatriation camps ready. People returning via the land route will be accepted at Taungpyoletwe camp, and those returning via water will be accepted at Ngakhuya camp. After the repatriated persons are checked, they will be temporarily held at Hla Pho Khaung camp, where they will be provided with all the necessary accommodations and support.
This is being arranged by the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development (UEHRD) and the Rakhine State government. At the same time, buildings are being constructed by UEHRD in the villages where the repatriated persons will finally be resettled. The construction work for the buildings started on 7 January. The concerned officials from UEHRD also conducted periodic field visits to the Rakhine State to inspect the preparation efforts. On my part, I coordinate with the Bangladesh side as a responsible person from Myanmar in the JWG, so that the repatriation process can be carried out smoothly. The repatriation process will start on 23 January 2018. When this begins, the immigration and population department will assess the verification form sent by the other side. Once it is assessed, it will be returned, and the assessed persons will return via a transit camp. Officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from the other side, as well as officials from ministerial departments, have been assigned to repatriation camps since 15 and 16 (January) and are making the necessary preparations.
We also discussed the matter of Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) terrorists at yesterday’s meeting. We heard that these terrorists are attempting to disrupt the repatriation process. We also have photographic evidence of this. At the same time, this is a matter that can be handled only through bilateral cooperation, and we have again requested the extradition of these terrorists, in accordance with the 1980 Myanmar-Bangladesh Border Agreement. The Bangladesh permanent secretary has also confirmed that Bangladesh will do its bit, as part of the bilateral cooperation with Myanmar. We will accept the voluntary return of the displaced Myanmar residents. As this is a safe and voluntary return, the necessary security arrangements will also be made.
We have specified our requirements within the framework signed on 23 November. Those applying for repatriation need to provide some sort of evidence of having resided in Myanmar. In the past, we had issued a white card. Later, the national verification cards (NVCs) were issued. Some family members hold these cards. We will consider anyone who has such evidence of residence. They will also be issued with supporting documents, such as Form 10. We will consider family lists for repatriation as well. Thirdly, there is the matter of split families, as well as those of children. If the Bangladesh court provides recommendations, they will be considered for repatriation. Finally, there is the case of orphans. If orphans meet the set criteria, and if evidence is provided of their parents having lived in Myanmar, we will accept them. Assessments will be made based on these categories’ criteria.
We have formed two groups for this. At the JWG level, the Bangladesh permanent secretary and I are the chairmen. Technical working groups, with officials from the Rakhine State, General Administration Department, Immigration and Population Department and the Myanmar Police Force, will be formed at the two repatriation camps.
The assessment and repatriation will be done by the two technical working groups. If a meeting is required during the repatriation process, it will be done through the Flag Meeting mechanism that already exists between the two countries. We will also contact each other through communication channels such as telephones, as well as by holding meetings in the camps.
The United Nations, as well as other international organisations, has been exerting pressure on Myanmar over the people who fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar. Under the framework agreement, we will conduct the repatriation in three months. We have also signed TORs to conduct the physical repatriation. This morning too, we signed an agreement on the physical arrangements for the repatriation. These are the positive things our country has done. We are providing proof that we are not slow in cooperating internationally. The successful conclusion of today’s meeting is the result of bilateral cooperation.
We have not set a deadline for the repatriation. The repatriation camps will be open five days a week. Each camp will repatriate 150 persons per day. Thus, there will be 300 repatriated persons per day, totalling 1,500 per week, in the initial stage. We will continue the process according to the verification form sent by the other side and based on the results of the assessment conducted on it after actually receiving the repatriated persons.
These tasks will be done systematically by the Rakhine State government and UEHRD. We have already implemented the plans for the villages. Further, security will be provided by the Myanmar Police Force and Border Police Force.
Regarding the ARSA terrorists, a bilateral Border Guard Police level central committee meeting was held in Nay Pyi Taw. Our focal ministry, the Ministry of Home Affairs, has provided to the other side a list of more than 1,000 terrorists, inclusive of personal information and photographs. At today’s meeting too, I spoke again about extraditing them and taking action according to the law. The other side is also not accepting these terrorists.
They will cooperate and work with us. We will conduct coordinated patrols along the border. They will take the necessary action to ensure these terrorists cannot stay on their land. On our part, we will take action according to the law.
The ministry of state counsellor’s office will lead this programme. Occasionally, the diplomats will be given a briefing. Further, our Union Minister, Dr. Win Myat Aye, will provide information on some of the work completed by UEHRD. Yesterday’s meeting was attended by officials from the Rakhine State government. We will work together with the officials from the concerned ministries, UEHRD and the Rakhine State
By News Team / MNA