November 5, 2019

Rohingya repatriation: Myanmar to extend ‘secret’ MoU with UNHCR, UNDP for another year

May 6th, 2019
File photo of Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp in Ukhiya, Cox's Bazar Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune
Last year saw virtually no progress on important issues, including citizenship for Rohingyas
Myanmar has agreed to extend a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), regarding the creation of necessary conditions for the return from Bangladesh, of hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas to their homes in Rakhine, Myanmar,   multiple sources told Dhaka Tribune yesterday.
The MoU between the Myanmar government and the two UN agencies was signed in Naypyidaw on June 6, 2016.
However, the full text of the MoU was never made public.
According to a number of   Foreign Ministry officials , the full text was not even shared with Bangladesh, which is shouldering the full brunt of the crisis.
Based on the part of the draft available on the UNHCR website, there should have been significant development on many important issues including the crucial matter of   citizenship, but nothing noteworthy has happened, they said.
The Foreign Ministry officials also said there should have been more effort to implement the recommendations of the Kofi Annan-led Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, which dealt with all major Rohingya repatriation issues, including the pathway to citizenship and freedom of movement.
“Yes, the Myanmar government has agreed to extend the MoU which is to expire on June 9, for another one year,” Abul Kalam, Refugee Relief and Repatriation commissioner based in Cox’s Bazar, told this correspondent.
“Although nothing significant has happened under the MoU, the decision of Myanmar to extend it seems to be a positive sign as it reflects the country’s willingness to remain engaged with the international community,” he added.
An official of the UN has also confirmed Myanmar’s intention to extend the MoU.
This issue was discussed during the fourth meeting of the Bangladesh-Myanmar joint working group (JWG) in Naypyitaw on Friday, said a member of the Bangladesh component of the JWG.
Regarding the slackness in implementing the MoU, the Myanmar government said progress is slow because of ongoing fighting between the Myanmar Army, Arakan Liberation Army, and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, he added.
Officials of the government, international organisations UNHCR and UNDP, were supposed to assess 1,000 villages that were affected by the brutal military campaign of August 25, 2017, but so far only about one hundred villages have been assessed.
Around 34 projects were selected, concerning the livelihoods of the Rohingyas, but only 9 of them have been initiated, Foreign Ministry officials said.
Progress is extremely slow, they added.
Following the signing of the tripartite MoU, a short press release posted on the UNHCR website reads: “This MoU is a first and necessary step to establish a framework for cooperation between the UN and the Government, aimed at creating conducive conditions for the voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable repatriation of refugees from Bangladesh and for helping to create improved and resilient livelihoods for all communities living in Rakhine State.”
However, an earlier UNHCR press release said that UNHCR and UNDP had agreed on the text of an MoU with Myanmar, to support the creation of conditions for the return of Rohingya refugees on May 31, 2018.
“This tripartite memorandum will establish a framework for cooperation aimed at creating the conditions conducive to the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable repatriation of Rohingya refugees to their places of origin or of their choosing. Since the conditions are not conducive for voluntary return yet, the MoU is the first and necessary step to support the Government’s efforts to change that situation and is also intended to support recovery and resilience-based development for the benefit of all communities living in Rakhine State,” the press release said.
“The agreement will provide a framework for UNHCR and UNDP to be given access to Rakhine State, including to refugees’ places of origin and areas of potential return that has not been permitted since violence broke out in August 2017,” the release added.
“The access, once effective, will allow UNHCR to assess the conditions on the ground and carry out protection activities. This will also enable UNHCR to eventually provide independent information to refugees about the conditions in their places of origin, helping them to make informed decisions if the conditions are right for them to return in safety and dignity. The MoU will also allow the two UN agencies to carry out needs assessments in affected communities and strengthen the capacity of local authorities to support the voluntary repatriation process,” it said further.
“The MoU, once signed, will affirm the Myanmar Government’s commitment to work with UNHCR and UNDP to find a solution for the Rohingya population, in line with the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. The recommendations include establishing a clear and voluntary pathway to citizenship and ensuring freedom of movement for all people in Rakhine State, irrespective of religion, ethnicity, or citizenship status. The development programmes supporting livelihoods and social cohesion will benefit all communities,” said the release.
“The signing of the MoU is an integral part of a comprehensive approach by UNHCR and UNDP to find solutions for Rohingya refugees and supporting transition towards a peaceful, fair and prosperous future for all the people of Rakhine. On 13 April 2018, the Government of Bangladesh and UNHCR also signed an MoU relating to voluntary returns of Rohingya refugees once conditions in Myanmar are deemed conducive,” it added.
Soon after the signing, officials of UNHCR and UNDP said the MoU had been signed in accordance with the text agreed upon.

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