Myanmar, Bangladesh meet amid doubts about Rohingya repatriation plan

A Rohingya girl clings to her mother as they wait in a queue for rations at Nayapara refugee camp, some 69 kilometers (43 miles) from in Cox bazar, Bangladesh, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. (AP/Manish Swarup)
Updated 14 January 2018
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Myanmar, Bangladesh meet amid doubts about Rohingya repatriation plan

DHAKA/YANGON: Hamid Hussain, a 71-year-old Rohingya Muslim farmer, first fled Myanmar for Bangladesh in 1992. He went home the next year under a repatriation deal between the two neighbors, only to repeat the journey last September when violence flared once more.
Officials from Myanmar and Bangladesh meet on Monday to discuss how to implement another deal, signed on Nov. 23, on the return of more than 650,000 Rohingya who have escaped an army crackdown since late August. Hussain is one of many who say they fear this settlement may be no more permanent than the last.
“Bangladesh authorities had assured us that Myanmar would give us back our rights, that we would be able to live peacefully,” said Hussain, who now lives in a makeshift refugee camp in southeast Bangladesh.
“We went back but nothing changed. I will go back again only if our rights and safety are guaranteed — forever.”
Buddhist-majority Myanmar has for years denied Rohingya citizenship, freedom of movement and access to many basic services such as health care and education. They are considered illegal immigrants from mainly Muslim Bangladesh.
The authorities have said returnees could apply for citizenship if they can show their forebears have lived in Myanmar. But the latest deal — like the one in 1992 — does not guarantee citizenship and it is unclear how many would qualify.
Monday’s meeting in Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw will be the first for a joint working group set up to hammer out the details of the November repatriation agreement. The group is made up of civil servants from both countries.
Two senior Bangladesh officials who are involved in the talks acknowledged that much was left to be resolved and it was unclear when the first refugees could actually return. One of the key issues to be worked out was how the process for jointly verifying the identities of returnees would work, they said.
“Any return is chaotic and complex,” said Shahidul Haque, Bangladesh’s top foreign ministry official who will lead Dhaka’s 14-member team in the talks. “The challenge is to create an environment conducive for their return.”
Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay said returnees would be able to apply for citizenship “after they pass the verification process.”
Zaw Htay added that Myanmar had proposed that a group of 500 Hindus who fled to Bangladesh and have already agreed to be repatriated, alongside 500 Muslims, could form the first batch of returnees.
“The first repatriation is important — we can learn from the experiences, good or bad,” he said.
MYANMAR SETS UP CAMPS
Bangladesh officials said they would begin the process this month by sharing with Myanmar authorities a list of 100,000 Rohingya, picked at random from among registered refugees.
Haque said Myanmar officials would vet the names against their records of residents before the August exodus, and those approved would then be asked if they wanted to go back.
Refugees without documents would be asked to identify streets, villages and other landmarks near their former homes as proof of their right to return, said Haque.
A Myanmar agency set up to oversee repatriation said in a statement on Thursday that two temporary “repatriation and assessment camps” and one other site to accommodate returnees had been set up. Myint Kyaing, permanent secretary at Myanmar’s Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, told Reuters earlier this month Myanmar would be ready to begin processing least 150 people a day through each of the two camps by Jan. 23.
As well as checking their credentials as residents of Myanmar, he said, authorities would check returnees against lists of suspected “terrorists.”
Myint Kyaing declined to comment on how long the repatriation would take but conceded the process after the 1992 agreement had taken more than 10 years.
United Nations agencies working in the camps clustered around Cox’s Bazar, in southeastern Bangladesh, have voiced skepticism about the resettlement plans.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration said their offers to help with the process have not been taken up by the two countries.
“Further measures are needed to ensure safe, voluntary and sustainable repatriation of refugees to their places of origin and to address the underlying root causes of the crisis,” said Caroline Gluck, a spokeswoman for the UNHCR in Cox’s Bazar.
The UNHCR says refugees it has surveyed want guarantees that international agencies will be involved in overseeing the process and more information about the security situation in their home areas.

WHO WILL GO? WHO WILL PAY?
While many Rohingya say they want to go back to Myanmar, most of the more than a dozen who spoke to Reuters said they were scared to do so now.
“I am not going back. No one’s going back,” said Hafizulla, a 37-year-old Rohingya man. “We are scared to go back without any UN intervention. They can accuse us later, they can arrest us. They may accuse us of helping the militants.”
The military offensive the refugees fled, which was prompted by Rohingya insurgent attacks on police and army posts, has been described by the United States and UN as ethnic cleansing. Myanmar rejects that, saying troops did not target civilians.
“You can have all the agreements in the world, and set up all the reception centers and everything, but it won’t make a difference unless the conditions in Myanmar are such that people feel confident that they can go back and live in peace, and have equal rights,” said a Western diplomat in Dhaka.
The second Bangladesh official, Refugee Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner Mohammed Abul Kalam, said the “Rohingyas’ reluctance to go back” was an issue that needed to be addressed.
He said the repatriation process would cost “millions of dollars” but funding details had not yet been agreed and were not expected to be discussed at Monday’s meeting.
Japan, one of Myanmar’s biggest aid donors, said on Friday it was giving an emergency grant of around $3 million to help with the return of the Rohingya.


UK warns dual nationals over travel to Iran, as France holds on envoy nomination

Updated 19 September 2018
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UK warns dual nationals over travel to Iran, as France holds on envoy nomination

  • Britain is seeking the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation who was arrested in April 2016
  • France will not name a new ambassador to Tehran before getting information from Iran following a foiled plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in Paris in June

LONDON: Britain on Wednesday advised British-Iranian dual nationals against all but essential travel to Iran, tightening up its existing travel advice and warning it has only limited powers to support them if detained.

The advisory came in tandem with France’s decision to hold off on appointing a new ambassador to Iran, as it seeks clarification over an attempt to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in Paris in June

“The Foreign Secretary (Jeremy Hunt) has taken the decision to advise against all but essential travel by UK-Iranian dual nationals to Iran,” a foreign office spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
“British citizens who also hold Iranian nationality face risks if they travel to Iran, as we have seen all too sadly in a number of cases. The Iranian government does not recognize dual nationality, so if a dual national is detained our ability to provide support is extremely limited.”
Earlier this month Britain’s Middle East minister Alistair Burt used a visit to Iran to discuss cases of detained dual nationals, alongside other diplomatic issues.
Britain is seeking the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation who was arrested in April 2016 at a Tehran airport as she headed back to Britain with her daughter, now aged four, after a family visit.
She was convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran’s clerical establishment, a charge denied by her family and the Foundation, a charity organization that is independent of Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.
Meanwhile, France will not name a new ambassador to Tehran before getting information from Iran following a foiled plot to bomb an Iranian opposition rally in Paris last June, French officials said on Wednesday.
An Iranian diplomat based in Austria and three other people were arrested on suspicion of plotting the attack on a meeting of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
Iran has said it had nothing to do with the plot, which it called a “false flag” operation staged by figures within the opposition group itself.
The incident has hit relations just as France and its European partners are seeking to salvage a 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers.
France’s ambassador to Iran departed in the summer. Iran has also yet to replace its departed ambassador to Paris.
“We have a charge d’affaires today in Tehran and there is a high-level dialogue between French and Iranian authorities,” said a French presidential source.
“We are working together to bring to light what happened around this event ... I wouldn’t say there is a direct link (in not appointing an ambassador), but Iran has promised to give us objective facts in the coming weeks that would allow us to pursue our diplomatic relationship as it is today.”
A French diplomatic source said the nomination had indeed been suspended as a result of the alleged plot.
France’s Foreign Ministry in August told its diplomats and officials to postpone non-essential travel to Iran indefinitely, citing the plot and a hardening of Tehran’s attitude toward France, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters.
President Emmanuel Macron is likely to discuss the issue with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani when they meet on Sept. 25 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, the source said.
Along with Britain and Germany, France is trying save a 2015 agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, which was thrown into disarray when US President Donald Trump pulled out of the accord in May and re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran.
Even so, tensions between Paris and Tehran have grown in recent months as Macron and his government have become increasingly frustrated with Iran’s activities in the Middle East region, in particular its ballistic missile program.