A press conference on the repatriation of returnees was held where officials replied to questions from local and foreign journalists regarding the process.
Among the questions asked by journalists included questions asking whether the 2,260 returnees are really returning on 15 November since there have been cases like these where returnees were going to come but they didn’t; authorities response to remarks from international organizations and human rights groups that say Myanmar is not ready to accept returnees and that there is no security yet; to what degree have you prepared for the IDP/returnees’ safety; and how many houses and villages have been prepared.
Union Minister Dr. Win Myat Aye replied to the questions. He said the most recent meeting they conducted in Bangladesh came out with the result that the IDPs/returnees would start returning in mid-November. They also sent a list containing the number of returnees coming back, from which officials were able to see which villages are included in the list, he said. He said Myanmar’s side requested sending about a hundred to forty-fifty people from the same area to be repatriated first. The Bangladesh side replied that they will send back returnees on 15 November. Whether they sent them or not depends on them. We are ready to accept them from our side, he said.
Security, Kofi Annan recommendations emphasized
Concerning the question on security, the Union Minister said they have done everything required of them to do. He said they are implementing the necessary processes concerning sustainability, security, pre-planning, and the recommendations from Kofi Annan’s commission. He said they have already known about the 42 villages the returnees will be returning to and they plan to resettle the returnees exactly in those areas.
The Union Minister said their processes are clear because they have done what they need to do with honesty. He added that since Myanmar is an ASEAN member country, it has received cooperation from other member countries too. There has also been international aid offered to them, he said. He said there is trust from the international community which has led to gaining support from them. He added this can be seen as both encouraging and the beginning of accomplishments.
First batch of returnees coming through Nga Khu Ya center
Permanent Secretary U Myint Thu said the Home Affairs Minister held a meeting in Yangon in February this year. It was at that meeting the list for 8,032 was received and 5,000 of those people were carefully reviewed, he said.
He said Myanmar had sent back the scrutinized list of the 5,000 people and from those numbers, 2,260 people will be accepted as the first large batch of returnees through Nga Khu Ya Reception Centre in November.
He said the second batch of 2,095 returnees will be accepted through Taung Pyo Let Wae transit center. He said the special third force has been formed on the Bangladesh side and is led by the refugee commissioner based in Cox’s Bazar.
Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Maj-Gen Aung Thu denied news of suspicious activity occurring along the border fence on the other side.
As regards Myanmar’s response to the statement, saying that it is not ready yet, U Zaw Htay said the first point is that a committee was formed with the Union Minister. As the exact number of returnees cannot be known, 42 places were selected. Homes were built for resettlement of the returnees. An appropriate strength of security was stationed as the number of returnees is unknown. The 2260 returnees will be appropriately grouped and resettled at appropriate villages. Only then security measures can be taken. Then there will be health and education undertakings and care for women and children. Myanmar side is ready for all those measures. It will depend on the situation. The returnees have a plan to engage in their original occupation. There are persons who want the process to be a failure. NGOs are releasing negative statements, saying that those people should not be sent back as the situation is not ready yet. But work has been done under the agreement between the two countries. Myanmar is doing its part and making arrangements to accept the returnees as soon as they come back. The State Counsellor has instructed to get ready for the reception at any time. The volume of requirements can be known only at the time the reception process really starts. So, work is being carried out step by step. Myanmar Government is trying to be ready for the matter.
As regards the question on the length of time the process which will begin with the arrivals from sea will take, U Myint Thu said he had visited the Main village-tracts and met with representatives. He said he had explained in detailed the transit centre and matters relating to health and education with the help of required documents. They were distributed by the Ministry of Immigration and Population. The distribution process is still going on in Rakhine State. The main aim is to distribute information in their language. Those were the documents they would surely understand.
Asked about cooperation with the UN for repatriation of returnees from the neighbouring country, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs U Myint Thu said that when the Myanmar delegation visited the Putapalong camp, the displaced people were eager to meet with them.
“And I also mentioned earlier that we met with the Hindu communities there. All in all, they have 438 Hindu communities currently residing on the Bangladesh side. They are also very eager to come back to Myanmar,” said U Myint Thu.
“And for those who we met at the Putapalong camp, they also mentioned about their livelihood, education, health. So they are very much willing to come back,” he added.
“We have a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh, Bangladesh will help to make sure that these people will come back voluntarily. And on our part, we have to receive them back with dignified manners. So we have to work together with Bangladesh,” said U Myit Thu.
He also assured the journalist that UNDP, UNHCR would be helping Myanmar in three phases; repatriation, resettlement and reintegration, saying “it is all on the pipeline at this moment.”
As regards the duration and daily reception rate, Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Dr Win Myat Aye said it will take 14 or 15 days at a reception rate of 150 persons per day. A reception list including over 20,000 persons was received. The process will continue without any interruption.
In response to the question on the permitted movement area for NVC holders and arrangements in case the NRC is destroyed by fire, Director-General of Immigration and Population Department U Htay Hlaing said he had records. A citizen cannot lose his citizenship. A person who has firm evidence of his citizenship will be granted citizenship. NVC allows free movement in a township. An appropriate application must be fill for cross-township, districted or state movement. NVC will not mention or need to mention the word “Rohingya”.
As regards the citizenship program for returnees, Director-General of the Office of the State Counsellor U Zaw Htay said citizenship will be granted in accord with the citizenship law. Although it was slow in the initial period, the process has been facilitated. After the township, district and state level processes have been completed, the case was sent to the Board of Ministers. The whole process will be facilitated. Arrangements are underway to grant all the NVC rights to NVC holders.
In connection with the work of gathering information, the Ministry of Information has made arrangements to provide the media with information as soon as the reception process starts. Information will also include scrutinization and reception methods.
As regards the fear of Buddhist Rakhines, the Union Minister has already explained the issue at the Hluttaw for three times. Each time there was a meeting with social organizations. There were meetings with leaders of grassroots in Nay Pyi Taw and CSO leaders, said U Zaw Htay.
Meetings were held frequently with party leaders. Moreover, the matter was also consulted with the Sayadaws. There were also informal meetings with political forces.
Especially, groups from both sides are partaking in the Diversity Management conducted by the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement. There are many on-going processes. Informal discussions were held with leaders of Buddhist Rakhines and other ethnics including Mro, Thet, Khamee. Frank discussion were held with them on resettlement programs. Especially, the possible consequences for the failure to handle the matter were explained.
Regarding the questions about the number of the returnees and resettlement, Permanent Secretary U Myint Thu said both sides has a mechanism calling ‘joint working group’ to resolve if there are any issues that arise between the two countries.
He continued to say that there are also the flag meetings at the working-level, the ground level while the border police forces of the two countries are also meeting on a regular basis and they are trying to resolve issues related to cross border issues.
“And at the foreign secretary level, we are communicating with Bangladesh. If there is any issues that arises regarding to repatriation we will resolve it through diplomatic channel,” said the permanent secretary.
“And for the question on how many will come back, it will depend on the Bangladesh side because we will initially receive 8032. Out of 8032, these 2260 will be the first batch to come back. So it depends on the preparation on the Bangladesh side,” he added.
“And on the last question on how long will they stay, it depends on the information that we can receive from them. They have to provide their original village of residence; otherwise we cannot verify their original place. So that’s why I explained to the people, the representatives at the Putapalong camp, to please provide detailed information of your village, your village-tract, your township, so that our immigration officer can easily verify,” said Permanent Secretary U Myint Thu.
So at this moment we are planning to relocate them back to 42 village-tracts.
“We will receive the 8032 from the Bangladesh side and then the minister himself visited the camp and explained to them about the voluntary return. And I also explained to them about voluntary and dignified return. So we try our best and Bangladesh also need to promote awareness among the people at the camp. So it’s the responsibility of both sides,”
said U Myint Thu.
Regarding the different number of returnees, U Soe Aung, Deputy Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, said it is found that some names are repeatedly mentioned in the list sent back by Bangladesh to Myanmar. Rakhine State Government, Ministry of Immigration and Population and Ministry of Foreign Affairs found the errors during the check, and that is why the total number of returnees reached 2,251.
Director-General U Zaw Htay said Myanmar sent the list of 51 terrorists to Bangladesh and the neighbouring country is obliged to transfer back them to Myanmar in accordance with the law, saying that that is a new procedure. Myanmar will act in accordance with the procedures if they are included in the returnees.
Director-General U Htay Hlaing said NVC will not state the words Rohingya and Bengali. Citizenship application will be under the 1982 Myanmar Citizenship Law. The law categorizes three types – citizen, foreigner registration certificate holder and citizenship granted persons. Returnees will be granted with the relevant types depending on the documents and evidence they hold.
The Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population has adopted a smartcard project for the people living in Myanmar. Each person will get a number that is supportive to all his personal affairs including health, education and social sectors and the e-government. The ministry is implementing citizenship system by using the smartcard system which would be supportive to an e-government. Director-General U Zaw Htay said the work will start in 2019. In the project, each person will have his own identity. It will not be folded. But it will state the name, date of birth, and ID No of the holder. As it will have no detailed facts, there cannot be any disputes.—MNA