Union Ministers reaffirm Myanmar’s willingness and readiness to receive displaced persons
A press conference on the visit of the Myanmar delegation led by Dr. Win Myat Aye, Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement of Myanmar, to Cox’s Bazar and Dhaka, Bangladesh from 11 to 13 April was held at National Reconciliation and Peace Centre (NRPC), in Yangon yesterday morning.
The press conference was attended by Heads of Mission, diplomats and representatives of UN agencies residing in Yangon as well as representatives of local and international media.
The briefing was jointly conducted by U Kyaw Tint Swe, Union Minister for the Office of the State Counsellor, U Thaung Tun, Union Minister for the Office of the Union Government, Dr. Win Myat Aye, Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement and the members of the Myanmar delegation – Dr. Aung Tun Thet, Chief Coordinator of Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine State, Dr. Thet Thet Zin, Chairperson of the Myanmar Women’s Affair Federation and members of the Interfaith Dialogue, U Tin Myint, U Than Lwin and Dr. Hla Tun.
Union Minister U Kyaw Tint Swe, in his opening remarks stated that Myanmar wished to implement, in an expeditious manner, the bilateral agreement on return of displaced persons from Rakhine State signed by the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh on 23 November 2018. In its earnest desire to commence the repatriation expeditiously, Myanmar unilaterally identified 508 Hindu villagers from Rakhine who had expressed their desire to return. Myanmar side was informed by the Bangladesh authorities that Hindus would be part of the last segment of the first batch. To accommodate the position of the Bangladesh side, Myanmar verified and sent additional list of names of 750 Muslim villagers so that the first batch comprising 750 Muslim and 508 Hindu villagers could be repatriated expeditiously. He said that no response had been received so far.
During the visit of the Minister for Home Affairs of Myanmar to Bangladesh, the delegation was provided with another list of forms of 8032 displaced persons from Rakhine State. However, the Myanmar side proceeded to verify them immediately. The forms were found to be different from prescribed forms agreed in the Physical Arrangement for Repatriation. In particular, they did not contain signatures, finger prints and proper photographs necessary for proper identification. The situation made the verification process most difficult. He said that Myanmar had requested the Bangladesh side on three separate occasions through diplomatic channels to forward duly-filled prescribed forms that would enable displaced persons to be repatriated under the principle of voluntary, safe and dignified return. Notwithstanding the limited information provided by the Bangladesh side, over 600 persons on the list were ascertained to be residents of Rakhine. Myanmar had informed the Bangladesh side accordingly.
The Union Minister added that the Myanmar side was ready to receive verified returnees and that necessary preparations had been completed for the repatriation. In this connection, Myanmar believed that it would be beneficial to send a team to Bangladesh headed by the Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, who is concurrently the Chairman of the Implementation Committee for Recommendations on Rakhine State which among others included recommendations of the Kofi Annan Commission, to explain to the people in the camps in Cox’s Bazar and encourage them to return. The United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar and Ambassador of Norway to Myanmar were invited to join the delegation. The UN Resident Coordinator responded that he could not join the visit. The Ambassador of Norway initially planned to join the delegation. Subsequently, as she was the only diplomat among the members of delegation, she cancelled to participate in the trip. During the visit, the Myanmar delegation requested to meet with 508 people of Hindu faith, 750 Muslim villagers and over 600 verified residents of Rakhine. The delegation found it disappointing as they were unable to meet the persons they requested to see. The delegation was taken to the camp where they met with a number of displaced persons and explained to them the preparations made by Myanmar for their repatriation of displaced persons. The delegation was told by the people that they met that they were not provided with any form and that they had no knowledge of the repatriation agreement. In the meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Home Affairs of Bangladesh, the delegation informed the Ministers that the forms sent back to Myanmar were not the prescribed forms agreed upon between the two governments. The Minister of Foreign Affairs ascertained the validity of this information and informed the Myanmar delegation that proper forms would be sent soon. The delegation informally learnt from the officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh that the forms of 8032 persons sent by Bangladesh were arranged through the community leaders without the consent of the individuals concerned. The prescribed forms which include the necessary details would facilitate the repatriation process. As the condition of camps in Cox’s Bazar is poor, it is imperative to receive the returnees as soon as possible.
Next, Union Minister Dr. Win Myat Aye briefed the audience on the purpose of the visit, the readiness for repatriation and the benefits of holding NVC cards. In addition, the Union Minister shared his experience on the visit. He said that the delegation was not able to meet the requested displaced persons despite meeting with some from the camps in Cox’s Bazar including some who spoke Myanmar language fluently. He learnt that the displaced persons had no knowledge of the forms to be filled for repatriation and no one had explained to them about the forms. He stated that the meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Home Affairs of Bangladesh in Dhaka was fruitful. He mentioned that the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh found out that the forms that they sent to Myanmar were not the prescribed forms agreed upon between the two governments. The Minister of Foreign Affairs assured the delegation that agreed forms would be sent soon.
Chief Coordinator of UEHRD Dr. Aung Tun Thet also shared his experience on the visit of Cox’s Bazar and Dhaka. He mentioned that despite having made arrangements to include diplomats from the neighbouring countries posted in Dhaka to the visit, they were unable to join the delegation due to the unavailability of seats on the flight to Cox’s Bazar. He underlined that the main purpose of the visit was to discuss with the Bangladesh authorities and the displaced persons in order to move forward the repatriation process expeditiously. He said he was surprised to learn that the displaced persons that he met had no knowledge of the need to fill the forms for repatriation. The high point of the visit was the meeting with the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh. He added that the Myanmar side was ready to receive the returnees and was even thinking of beyond the repatriation. He confirmed that the Myanmar side was taking necessary steps to provide livelihoods for the returnees. He said that unfortunately the delegation experienced that some media incorrectly mentioned on what the delegation did not say. The cooperation of the media is crucial. Furthermore, the Chief Coordinator added that the delegation had genuine and sincere desire to create the conditions to receive the displaced persons under the principle of voluntary, safe and dignified return. Myanmar is willing and ready to receive the verified returnees.
Dr. Thet Thet Zin, Chairperson of the Myanmar Women’s Affair Federation, and U Tin Myint, U Than Lwin, Dr. Hla Tun, members of the Interfaith Dialogue shared their experiences of the visit. They mentioned that it was very important to start the repatriation process because the monsoon was coming soon. The main purpose of the visit was to explain the repatriation process and persuade them to be repatriated. Although the Myanmar delegation requested to meet with religious and community leaders, the delegation was unable to meet them. It was requested that dully-filled prescribed forms as agreed by both sides to be sent to Myanmar. Despite requesting to meet displaced Hindus in the camps in Cox’s Bazar, the Bangladesh side did not facilitate the request, giving reason of the distance of the place where displaced Hindus were residing. Sadly, it was found out that their camp was located just before the camp the Myanmar delegation visited. It was also learnt that the forms had not been distributed to the displaced Hindus. He therefore called on the government of Bangladesh, the United Nations and International Organizations to assist in the process for early repatriation of displaced Hindus.
The Union Ministers responded to the questions raised by the media personnel.
U Thaung Tun, Union Minister for the Office of the Union Government made the closing remarks. He thanked the attendees and said that the violence was triggered by the terrorist attacks on 25 August 2017. He confirmed that Myanmar wished to commence the repatriation process at the earliest possible time in keeping with the “Arrangement on Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State”, signed between the two countries. He said that Myanmar had already made necessary preparations for the repatriation in accordance with the agreement. He reaffirmed that Myanmar was ready and willing to receive the verified returnees under the principle of voluntary, safe and dignified return. Those who expressed their willingness to return should be allowed to do so.—MNA