POST TIME: 14 January, 2018 12:39:48 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 14 January, 2018 08:27:11 AM
All eyes on Myanmar as maiden JWG meet begins tomorrow

All eyes on Myanmar as maiden JWG meet begins tomorrow

The attention of the country appears to be focused on the first meeting of the Bangladesh-Myanmar joint working group (JWG) for the repatriation of the Rohingyas in Naypyidaw, which is expected to finalise the physical arrangements for the return of the people from Rakhine to their homes. Since August 25, last year, more than 6.55 lakh Rohingyas had cross into Cox’s Bazar to escape the atrocities orchestrated by the Myanmar security forces, local Buddhists mobs and people belonging to other ethnic groups in Rakhine state bordering Bangladesh. This figure is in addition to already 3.5 to 4 lakh Rohingyas living in the country for a long time.

“The physical arrangements of the return of forcibly-displaced Myanmar nationals to their homes will be discussed in the meeting and finalised,” Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque, who heads the Bangladesh side of the JWG, told The Independent yesterday before leaving for Myanmar with his team by a Biman

Bangladesh Airlines flight. “I’m hopeful about the meeting,” he said. Although the JWG comprises 15 members from each country, Bangladesh is going to be represented by 14 members from different ministries, departments and agencies, said few members of the JWG while talking to this correspondent.

The representative of the Bureau of Statistics is not going to make it due to ‘unavoidable circumstances, they said.

“His absence at this stage will not be a problem,” assured a member of the team.

The sources also informed that earlier it was decided that the talks will be held on Monday, but now the discussions will continue till the morning of Tuesday.

They said that the delegation will use today (Sunday) by holding internal discussions among them including ambassador to Myanmar Sufiur Rahman, who is also a member of JWG.

The Myanmar side of the JWG will be headed by Permanent Secretary of its Foreign Ministry Myint Thu. The group formed on December 19 in Dhaka in accordance with a deal signed between Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali and Myanmar Minister attached with State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s office Kyaw Tint Swe on November 23, 2017 in Naypyidaw.

The JWG will deal with over 6.55 lakh Rohingyas, who have arrived since August 25, and more than 80,000 who had crossed border after October, 2016.

According to the terms of reference (TOR) agreed by the two sides, the group will undertake all necessary measures to start the safe and voluntary return, resettlement and reintegration process of displaced Myanmar residents as stated in the “Arrangement on Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State”.

It will develop physical arrangement for return, which would include mechanism of verification, time schedule, transport and logistics arrangements, reception procedures, communication etc. to commence the repatriation process within the stipulated time frame mentioned in the “Arrangement”, state the terms of reference. The JWG will assess the process and report to the respective governments quarterly.

It will take assistance of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and other mandated UN agencies and interested international partners in various stages of repatriation. Meanwhile, the two-month deadline set in the agreement to start the repatriation is going to be missed, few members of the JWG told this correspondent.

“Although our all-out efforts will be there to begin the repatriation by January 23, the deadline specified in the deal, it looks certain that we are going to miss it,” said a member.

“A delay of 10-15 days is not going to be a big deal once we can get things moving,” he hastened to add. “The most important thing is to begin the repatriation and it will be a continuous process till we say goodbye to the last person”, said another member. To a question, he said that Bangladesh is not going to hand over any list of Rohingyas at this meeting.

Meanwhile, as the two countries are preparing for discussing the repatriation, Rohingyas, though in much smaller number as compared with previous months, keep crossing into Cox’s Bazar.

When this issue was raised, the members acknowledged that they are aware of the doubt among the people about the success of the meeting as it is taking place amidst continued arrival of Rohingyas.

The new arrival is in complete violation of the agreement in which Myanmar pledged to make efforts to stop their people crossing border, they said, adding that the issue was raised with the Myanmar side before and it will be brought to their attention in the meeting.