What Does the Bangladesh-Myanmar Border Guards Meeting Mean for Rohingya Repatriation?

On Oct. 30, a flag meeting between Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and Myanmar’s Border Guard Police (BGP) was held at Teknaf in Cox’s Bazar where the Myanmar officials expressed their regret on the recent border incidents. BGP promised to maintain a peaceful stand on the border so that the internal conflict in Myanmar does not affect the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. Such a meeting proves that both parties possess an environment of mutual communication, trust and confidence among them which will help to pave the way to the Rohingya repatriation.  

Bangladesh-Myanmar shares a 271-km long border, most of which is covered with impassable mountainous areas. The border is crucial for combating transnational terrorist and separatist movements, combating human and drug trafficking and maintaining robust border management. However, Myanmar security forces flying helicopters over the Bangladesh-Myanmar border areas, firing small arms and heavy weapons in the border area and the loss of life and property caused by it created a tense situation between the two friendly nations. 

These unwarranted incidents are totally a violation of the international norms and rules of sovereignty over the airspace of a particular country. There were several elements of border conflict between the border security forces to some extent concerning the issue. However, Bangladesh tactfully and diplomatically handled the situation believing in international rule of law. As part of the diplomatic initiative, Bangladesh strongly protested by summoning the Myanmar ambassador in Dhaka four times, organized briefing for ambassadors of ASEAN countries in Dhaka, the Chinese ambassador was separately briefed and the Bangladesh Embassy in Yangon expressed their deep concern over the prevailing border situation. Better late than never, Myanmar’s BGP apologized for the provocative acts along the border, including the repeated violation of Bangladesh’s airspace by helicopters and shelling inside its territory.

On the other hand, the contemporary history of Bangladesh-Myanmar relations has been disturbed by the Rohingya repatriation issue. Over 1.2 million Rohingyas are staying at the camps in the Cox’s Bazar and Bhasan Char region of Bangladesh. The major exodus started in 2016-17 when the Tatmadaw started military crackdown against the Arakan Muslims with the allegations of attacking in a security check-post in Rakhine. Since then, almost six years have passed and the Rohingyas are passing their life with great hardship and uncertainties about their desire for returning to their motherland.

To solve the Rohingya crisis, there are three possible solutions in lying with the UNHCR. They are voluntary repatriation, local integration and third-country resettlement. Local integration and third-country resettlement are not viable options for Bangladesh as the country is already overloaded with a huge population and the developed countries are reluctant to pursue burden sharing under R2P scheme. The only viable and realistic option is to repatriate the Rohingyas to their homeland. 

Among the Rohingyas sheltered in Bangladesh from Myanmar, Myanmar agreed to take back a number of Rohingyas in the first step just a few months after the military crackdown that created the fleeing wave of forcibly displaced Myanmar Nationals (FDMNs). More than 700,000 Rohingyas came to Bangladesh within a few months after the army started operation in Rakhine on Aug. 25, 2017. Bangladesh was sheltering another 4 million Rohingyas even before the 2017 incident. 

Under international pressure, the Myanmar government signed an agreement with Bangladesh in late 2017 to take back the Rohingyas, but the repatriation has not yet started. In 2019, two rounds of repatriation talks were initiated, but the Rohingya refused to return citing concerns about the environment in Rakhine State. Myanmar is urged to make arrangements so that they can return home with safety, dignity and civil rights.

Bangladesh has given Myanmar a list of 835,000 Rohingyas for repatriation from January 2018 to December 2020. Among them, Myanmar has verified the names of only 42,000 Rohingyas and sent them back. However, while the list is supposed to be family-wise, the list sent back by Myanmar is not complete. That is why it is often said that the Rohingya crisis is a protracted crisis that is rooted in Myanmar. Without the cooperation of Nay Pyi Taw, the solution to the crisis is beyond imagination. 

The border meeting between BGB and BGP provides a framework for consolidating mutual trust and further resuming the halted repatriation talks. It is important to mention here that last month, the foreign minister of Bangladesh AK Abdul Momen said that Myanmar will take back the Rohingyas staying in Bangladesh according to the previous agreement, said the foreign minister after a meeting with the Chinese ambassador Li Ziming. Bangladesh aimed to start the Rohingya repatriation process this year. 

In a recent event, the Chinese ambassador in Dhaka said that Myanmar has responded to the message sent by Beijing on the Rohingya issue. At the time, he said that several countries including Japan, India and Singapore have promised cooperation in solving the Rohingya crisis, but only China has played a positive role. Naypyidaw has also responded to Beijing’s call to stabilize the border, the foreign minister said. An agreement brokered by China in Nay Pyi Taw was signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar in 2018 to begin the repatriation of Rohingya, but the process is currently stalled. 

As the foreign policy of Bangladesh is based on “friendship to all, malice to none”, Bangladesh always maintains close relations with its neighbors. Without war and having conflict with a country, sheltering a huge population larger than countries like Bhutan or Luxembourg is an unprecedented incident in history. Bangladesh and Myanmar border forces have not had any kind of enmity regarding the Rohingyas. Both of them are working towards making the border safe, upholding the sovereignty of both the countries. Though Myanmar has internal political instability issues; that should not affect the repatriation process of the world’s most persecuted people. 

[Photo by Kaidor, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons]

*Nazifa Nawar is an independent researcher and freelance writer. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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