As we have agreed since several months ago to repatriate returnees, we have already completed preparations for receiving them — Union Minister Dr Win Myat Aye

Interviewer – Zin Oo (Myanma Alin)

Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief & Resettlement Dr. Win Myat Aye.Photo: Soe Aung
Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief & Resettlement Dr. Win Myat Aye.Photo: Soe Aung

In accord with the agreement reached between Myanmar and Bangladesh and according to the list provided by Bangladesh, Myanmar was ready to receive 2,251 returnees as a first batch on 15 November. But there were no returnees. The following is an interview with Union Minister Dr Win Myat Aye, who chairs the Repatriation and Resettlement Committee.
“We are here in Taung PyoLetwe to receive the displaced people. According to agreements reached between Myanmar and Bangladesh, we will scrutinize the list if it is provided by Bangladesh and see whether the people have really lived in Myanmar. If we find people who were involved in terrorist acts, then they will be repatriated to the other country.”

Agreement reached to repatriate 150 people a day
“According to the repatriation list, we are ready to receive the returnees in Nga Khu Ya centre by water route and Taung Pyo Letwe centre by inland route. Our two countries have agreed to receive 150 people a day at the centres. We have said that the repatriation process must be voluntary, safe and dignified. Myanmar and Bangladesh have both signed for collaboration with UNDP and UNHCR to ensure a smoother process.”

Joint Working Group Agreed by both sides
“This measure is taken to ensure the process from our side is comprehensive. There is a clause in the agreement that states the repatriation process needed to be completed by 23 January. We acted on the agreement and completed two repatriation centres and the Hla Pho Khaung transit centre by 23 January. The other country also did their part but since they were not ready, the repatriation process could not begin. And there is also a Joint Working Group and groups agreed by Myanmar and Bangladesh.”
“These groups hold regular meetings on repatriation and resettlement. We received an offer at the last meeting on 30 October. The offer arranged for the repatriation of 2,251 people as a first batch in mid-November. They offered that they would repatriate the returnees in accord with the list we have scrutinized. We were already ready for the process so we agreed.”

We are ready
“We made announcements as agreed upon and informed other areas. We really are ready. We personally checked the readiness last week. The date was then set as 15 November. On 12 November, the director-general of Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry met the Myanmar ambassador and discussed matters on repatriation for 15 November. The director-general confirmed that the repatriation process will really take place on 15 November. He asked what time the returnees should begin returning and which officials will be present during the process. We replied that the best time for repatriation would be between 7 am to 5 pm.”
“For Myanmar’s side, there’s a Repatriation and Resettlement Committee and two working committees. The chairman of the committees are the deputy minister for home affairs and the state minister for security and border affairs.

Ready to accomplish mission
“The Deputy Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement chairs the Resettlement Committee and the state electricity and transportation minister is also in the committee. We informed them that we will make arrangements for repatriation based on the agenda of the other side. The President’s Office also issued an office letter regarding the readiness of the process. All the committees are ready to accomplish the mission and that is why we are here.”
“According to news reports, we heard that there was no readiness for the process. First, we heard there would be no repatriation. Then about 2 pm, we were informed that they would continue the process. But till in the evening no one appeared. After that, we heard that Bangladesh Foreign Ministry would hold a press conference at about 4.30 pm Myanmar Standard Time. We will act accordingly as the situation proceeds.”

Repatriation process was agreed several months ago
“We are carrying out the process based on mutual agreement. We pay attention to voluntary, safe and dignified return. We do believe that the other side would prepare facts and data systematically. We made all arrangements as we believed that they would send the returnees in a systematic manner. As we have agreed since several months ago to repatriate returnees, we have already completed preparations for receiving them. We do believe we are dutiful.”

ASEAN leaders said they would cooperate
“Meanwhile, the 33rd ASEAN Summit was held in Singapore. The attending leaders issued the ASEAN Chairman Statement. The statement was issued on 13 November and in paragraph 37, it is stated that ASEAN leaders received a briefing from Myanmar on the situation in Rakhine State, and they stand ready to support Myanmar in its repatriation process. And there is the AHA Centre to facilitate the repatriation process.”

Agreement reached to visit Myanmar
“The AHA Centre is based in Indonesia and it was founded with the aim of providing humanitarian assistance through cooperation among 10 ASEAN countries. There is a management team comprising leaders of ASEAN. Director-General Dr Ko Ko Naing, who is a member of the team, held a video conference with the team. Based on the statement issued at the 33rd ASEAN Summit, the 10 ASEAN leaders invovled in the management team agreed to visit Myanmar.”

Cooperation of the Bangladesh government is needed
“The visit is aimed at recognizing the repatriation process. Arrangements have been made for the representatives’ visit. They will come soon. For further cooperation, a team will come from ASEAN. This shows ASEAN’s support towards cooperation with Myanmar. We have done everything we need to do. The Bangladesh government needs to cooperate in a systematic repatriation process. Only then can we say the process is comprehensive. I would like to express here is that we practice transparency in dealing with international community.”

Two communities are living without harmony for several years
“The repatriation process is not a smooth process. There are many hindrances. There are three types of displaced people over there. One of the type sees a lot of support for displaced people being offered in Bangladesh. They get daily allowance. Some have announced that they may be allowed to enter a third country. These factors may delay the repatriation process. In retrospect, the two communities have been living together without harmony. We are trying to make coordinations regarding this matter too.”

Innocent villagers have become scapegoat
“The terrorst attacks on the 30 police posts gradually led to people leaving in large numbers. So we sought suggestions from the Kofi Annan Commission. While trying to implement this, there were attacks by ARSA. Many innocent villagers have become scapegoats during these attacks.
Because they were included in recruitment attempts, some of them are included in the list of terrorists.”

ARSA associates attempt to prevent repatriation
“This can be the second reason why those who are related with ARSA are facing difficulties to participate in repatriation process. There are many people who wish to come back. They contacted us through Viber. They said they want to come back, but are facing difficulties. They face difficulties even in filling the forms. There are disturbances in filling the forms. Those who are associated with ARSA are trying to prevent everything. There have been torturing and killings. I believe everyone has heard of this. Although they want to come back, they are afraid of doing so. These are the barriers.”

Success needs to be achieved
“Displaced persons are facing difficult situation even in the process of filling forms, which have been agreed by the two countries. Here, I would like to express that Bangladesh’s cooperation is needed. They have the same goal as us, that’s why they are cooperating but they need to make sucess a reality.” “It is our knowledge that the list we have sent has been forwarded to UNHCR. Their cooperation is important for accomplishing the mission.”

UN’s many cooperation
“We have focused on sustainable freedom from conflicts and safety. The implementation of suggestions made by Kofi Annan’s commission is to bring about peace and prosperity in the whole state. Matters relating to citizenship, freedom to travel, closing old refugee camps have been addressed together with UNHCR. UN has cooperated with us in many cases. National level strategic plans have been made to close the camps.”

Creating a peaceful and prosperous region
“Our friends are with us. For our part, we have created good opportunities better than ever. We tried our best for better transportation and power supply system for the whole Maungtaw District. If Bangladesh, UNDP, UNHCR and the international community all cooperate in the process, then it will be truly successful.”
(Translated by Wallace)

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