Flawed return deal offers no way back for Rohingya refugees

In this file photo taken on March 18, 2018 minority Rohingya Muslims gather behind Myanmar's border lined with barbed wire fences in Maungdaw district, located in Rakhine State bounded by Bangladesh. (AFP)
Updated 17 April 2018

Flawed return deal offers no way back for Rohingya refugees

  • In November Myanmar agreed to take back around 750,000 Rohingya from Bangladesh — which hosts around one million of the Muslim minority driven out by waves of state violence stretching back to 1978
  • Myanmar does not want its Rohingya, denying them citizenship and classifying the minority as “Bengalis” who have seeped over the border illegally

KUTUPALONG: Bungling, distortion and diplomatic doublespeak have hollowed out the deal to repatriate Rohingya from Bangladesh to Myanmar, with refugees refusing to return to a homeland that remains perilously insecure.
“We will have to stay here for a long period, maybe generations,” Ali, a Rohingya refugee and father-of-six, told AFP from the Kutupalong mega-camp on Bangladesh’s side of the border.
In November Myanmar agreed to take back around 750,000 Rohingya from Bangladesh — which hosts around one million of the Muslim minority driven out by waves of state violence stretching back to 1978.
Yet so far, Myanmar has signed off just 675 names from a Bangladeshi list of 8,000 refugees, citing discrepancies in the verification forms proving their residency in Rakhine state.
Months have elapsed, but no one has crossed back under the deal.
A family of five was “repatriated” over the weekend from a wedge of no-man’s land between the neighbors.
Their return was swiftly pilloried as a PR stunt by rights groups and labelled “not meaningful” by Bangladesh’s home minister.
“Whatever we say, they (Myanmar) agree,” Asaduzzaman Khan told AFP. “But they have not been able to create grounds for trust that they will take back these people.”
Myanmar does not want its Rohingya, denying them citizenship and classifying the minority as “Bengalis” who have seeped over the border illegally.
It forced around 750,000 out in two major army operations in October 2016 and August 2017.
The UN describes the August crackdown, ostensibly a kickback against Rohingya militant attacks, as “ethnic cleansing.”
Under pressure, Myanmar agreed to take back those who can prove prior residence.
Bangladesh wants swift, large-scale returns to ease pressure on the teeming camps in its Cox’s Bazar district — and salve domestic disquiet that one of Asia’s poorest countries is saddled with a huge refugee crisis.
Yet the refugees listed by Dhaka do not even know they have been volunteered to return to a country where they allege widespread atrocities.
“We did not try to ascertain approval from them,” a senior Bangladesh official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Dhaka has also muddied its side of the bargain.
Under the repatriation agreement, the head of each Rohingya family must list the address of his or her father, mother and spouse in Myanmar.
But those details were inexplicably omitted from the forms submitted to Myanmar, the official told AFP.
With no new names planned for scrutiny, the process is at a standstill.

Stripped of citizenship

For the Rohingya, return is the ultimate aim but only on condition of guaranteed safety and — crucially — citizenship, a red line to Myanmar authorities who stripped them of that status in 1982.
With the monsoon looming they are bedding in for the long haul.
The makeshift Kutupalong mega-camp is taking on permanent features as hulking drainage pipes are dug into hillsides and bamboo shacks are upgraded with concrete.
But Bangladesh does not publicly air long-term settlement in its camps as an option.
Dhaka has drawn an outcry by threatening to move up to 100,000 people to a flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal.
It says its biometric register of a million refugees should clear the way for large-scale returns, if the urgency is matched by the other side.
But Myanmar’s sincerity is in shreds.
On a first visit to the camps last week, a Myanmar official implored Rohingya to return to a “changed” country, where destroyed villages are being rebuilt and work awaits.
“Please come back first... and taste it. Then, if you all feel satisfied, more can return,” Social Welfare Minister Win Myat Aye told Rohingya leaders.
But with villages razed, choking controls on movement in place and communal hatred still sharp, the UN says conditions inside Rakhine “are not conducive” for repatriation.
Refugees are also well versed in the machinations of Myanmar’s bureaucracy, after generations trapped on a carousel of forced exile and short-lived return.
“We won’t go back without citizenship and security... there’s no point, they will force us out again,” said Mohammad Sadek, 24, a resident of Kutupalong.
Over decades Myanmar’s army has rehashed history, rubbing out the Rohingya’s legal status and spewing Islamaphobic rhetoric across the overwhelmingly Buddhist country.
The identity card offered to returning Rohingya calls them “Bengalis” — in effect making holders complicit in renouncing their own ancestral claims in Rakhine.
Myanmar will likely allow “a token number” to return, says Francis Wade author of “Myanmar’s Enemy Within.”
But “the vast majority of Rohingya in the camps will likely live out their days there... as will their children.”

Philippines may become region’s ‘defense industry hub’

Updated 20 September 2018

Philippines may become region’s ‘defense industry hub’

  • Israel wants to manufacture UAVs in the Philippines
  • Russia and South Korea looking for arms and defense manufacturing facilities

MANILA: The Philippines may become the region’s defense industry hub after several countries expressed an interest in basing their arms and defense manufacturing facilities in the country.

Among the facilities are firearms and force protection plants, as well as ones for aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul.

Department of National Defense (DND) spokesperson, Arsenio Andolong, cited at least three countries — Israel, Russia and South Korea — as among those with a keen interest to undertake such projects.

However no agreement has been signed yet and proposals are still in the exploratory stage, Andolong said.

There are plans, however, to create a zone processing defense material at the 370-hectare Government Arsenal (GA) in Limay, Bataan. It will be called the Government Arsenal Defense Industrial Economic Zone (GADIEZ), which will accommodate foreign defense firms that want to establish their manufacturing plants in the Philippines.

With Israel, negotiations have been ongoing. “It all began when we purchased our latest acquisitions from them, the force protection equipment during the time of (then Defense Secretary Voltaire) Gazmin,” Andolong said.

“They became more aggressive when we started doing market research for the many things that we wanted. In one of our meetings the plan to put up an export processing zone for war materiel was discussed and that’s when they expressed interest,” he said.

But Israel now changed its focus; they now want to enter into partnership with Philippine Aerospace Development Corporation.

An agreement has yet to be signed however between the Philippine government and an Israeli firm for its entry through aircraft repair.

“I think eventually it will lead to setting up a UAV manufacturing facility,” a highly placed source said.

Russia, meanwhile, is more likely to have a firearms factory in Bataan province, in central Lozun region.

That is despite the ceremonial signing of a Letter of Intent (LoI) of Silver Shadow Advanced Security Systems (SASS) and Rayo Illuminar Corporation (RIC) to “explore opportunities in the manufacturing and refurbishment of small arms and ammunition,” during Duterte’s recent visit to Israel. The project is estimated to be worth $50 million.

Russia, according to Andolong, has been sending representatives to the country to discuss their offer for a joint production facility to produce Russian assault rifles, or AK47s.

“The Russians verbally communicated that they would like to go into a partnership with the GA to manufacture AK47 rifles in the Philippines. But at this time it’s still a verbal proposal. The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has required them to submit a feasibility study.”

A proposal by a South Korean firm that also wanted to set up a firearms factory in the Philippines was put on hold after they gave terms and conditions that were not acceptable — such as “there will be capitalization from the government.”

“So everything is still fluid but Russia is in the running because they are offering many nice goodies,” the DND spokesperson said. “Like the submarines, for example; they said if the Philippines can’t afford to purchase then they can give a soft loan to finance it. And they also mentioned about packages they can use to start up the business.”

Andolong said that the reason that these countries chose the Philippines to set up their facilities was mainly because “they want to create a hub here in the Southeast since they don’t have a presence here yet.”

“It may also be “because of our location. Aside from that we are I think the first Southeast Asian country who offered this,” he said.

“The Philippines is close to many potential markets of Russia and Israel, because these two countries, their main exports really are armaments and they have no footprint in this region,” he said.