Returning The Rohingya: A Bad Deal Worsened By Haste.
The signing of a repatriation agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh on 23 November has raised expectations — and concerns — of an imminent return of Rohingya refugees to northern Rakhine state. But the reality is that no repatriation is likely in the foreseeable future. First and foremost is physical security. This is a deeply traumatized population, many of whom suffered or witnessed acts of horrific violence. They will not be ready to return unless they are assured of their safety. This seems an unlikely prospect, given that the government and military both deny the extent of the abuses that occurred — the military exonerated itself through an internal investigation that found not a single shot had been fired at civilians and state media regularly denies allegations of abuses reported by human rights organizations and the international media. Many of the abuses, including sexual violence, were perpetrated by military-backed vigilante groups made up of non-Muslim villagers in the area, who operate with considerable impunity. Second is the ability to sustain livelihoods. The repatriation agreement provides that people will be able to return to their places of origin. If this is allowed in practice, and they are able to reclaim their land, they fundamentally require freedom of movement, to reach their farms and fishing grounds, to go where their day labor is needed and to access markets. This requires reassurance on physical security, as well as lifting the onerous movement restrictions and curfews put in place following attacks in late 2016 and August 2017 by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army militants. Third is a more hopeful future. ARSA emerged as decades of oppression and progressive marginalization of the Rohingya tipped into desperation and despair. With no hope for a better future and no way out, some were ready to contemplate violent responses and the militants found a fertile recruiting ground. Refugees will not willingly return to a situation of such hopelessness. Changing that requires meaningful progress on implementing key recommendations of the advisory commission led by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The Myanmar government has embraced these recommendations, but there is little sign of rapid progress. The subsequent appointment of an Implementation Committee for the recommendations, and recently an advisory board to the Implementation Committee that includes several eminent international figures, suggests an administration focused on diplomatic strategy instead of the much more difficult practical steps needed to change the situation on the ground. Credit: Richard Horsey for International Crisis Group, 22 December 2017.
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