Dhaka, July 11 (IANS) India supports Bangladesh’s stand on repatriation of Myanmar’s forcibly displaced Rohingyas as it seeks a sustainable and lasting solution to the crisis, Bangladesh Foreign Minister, Dr A.K. Abdul Momen said.
In an exclusive interview to IANS, Abdul Momen said that his Indian counterpart, Dr S. Jaishankar, had sent a letter on July 8, saying that India, as a neighbour of both Bangladesh and Myanmar, felt that the welfare of all lies in the speedy, safe, and sustainable repatriation of Rohingyas in Bangladesh to Myanmar.
India again assured that they will strongly support Bangladesh on the Rohingya issue, he said.
“Jaishankar also mentioned that the two countries will continue to work together always for development. So, we are very happy,” said a smiling Momen.
The Indian Minister also reiterated his commitment to stand by the government and the people of Bangladesh in dealing with the corona epidemic, he added.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: You have long sought the cooperation of neighbouring countries and the United Nations in repatriating the Rohingyas. The Indian Foreign Minister has written to you assuring of his cooperation in repatriating the Rohingyas, you said. Has the letter from a neighbouring country made you optimistic about the repatriation of Rohingyas? What did he explain?
A: Dr Jaishankar mentioned that they are on our side on the issue of the repatriation of the Rohingyas. India congratulated Bangladesh for taking the humanitarian initiative by sheltering the Rohingyas. He wrote that they want a sustainable long-term solution to the Rohingya issue. They also said that they are always with Bangladesh on repatriation of the Rohingyas back to Myanmar, or Europe or America – any other country of the developed world, as I appealed before. The Indian FM has reaffirmed his new commitment to work with Bangladesh on the issue.
Q: So, do you have any plans after India’s new strong approach on the Rohingya issue?
A: We have just received the letter. This is a serious issue… New commitment. We will talk together about this. After all, the Indian matter is very important to us.
Q: Less than 3 years since a crackdown against Rohingya Muslim community in Rakhine state – a campaign of violence that has since led to a genocide case in the UN’s highest court, the Myanmar military is again accused of war crimes against Rakhine’s Buddhists. Do you feel a threat that the Rakhines will enter Bangladesh like the Rohingya refugees?
A: Yes. The letter comes from India, at a time when not only the Rohingyas but also the Rakhine Buddhists are being deported from Myanmar. Now the Myanmar army is once again accused of committing war crimes against their people. The tactics are familiar, but the primary targets this time are Rakhine Buddhists, as well as Rohingya, Mro, Daignet, and Chin communities. Despite sharing faith with Myanmar’s rulers, Rakhine Buddhists have long complained of persecution, and say the development of their state has been stifled by the central government. Repression has now, they say, escalated into violent atrocities.
Before 2016, Rakhines were forced to leave their lands. After 2016, Rohingyas were forced to leave their homes. Now the Rakhines are being forced to leave their homes again. As seen in the media, the military of Myanmar has told the Rakhines: ‘Either you get lost from Myanmar, or you’ll be counted a part of the rebel group Arakan Army -so just leave, here a combat operation is going on!’ So it is difficult to survive for the Rakhines. This is a big challenge for the Rakhines now.
Q: For more than a year, a long-simmering conflict has escalated between the military and the Arakan Army, a rebel group drawn from Rakhine state’s Buddhist majority, that says it is fighting for greater autonomy. So, Rakhines are leaving Myanmar, are they a threat for Bangladesh, as well as before?
A: Bangladesh is afraid of whether they will cross the border and come to Bangladesh as new refugees. Let’s see if the Rakhines come via the sea. Because the Rohingyas have come to Bangladesh, crossing the sea for decades. But we are not able to bear any more refugees in our small country!
Q: Do you expect India to respond to your call, as you appeal to the United Nations? Or, will India pressure the UN to force Myanmar to repatriate the Rohingyas?
Answer: Our position is very clear. This is not our problem. It is up to the world to take responsibility for the Rohingyas. The good news of this week is that the British government has imposed sanctions on two Myanmar generals for human rights abuses against the Rohingya people and other ethnic minorities.
Q: Is this step of the British government enough to pressure the military leaders of Myanmar? And also do you think other countries should also pressure Myanmar as well?
A: No, this step is by no means enough. Myanmar’s trade with the British has multiplied in the last three years compared to 2017. After ethnic cleansing and in the last three years without any pressure on Myanmar, the British government has increased trade with them 11 to 15 times. Myanmar’s exports have increased much.
The development assistance of the British government has increased too. I think, if the British government stops its assistance in Myanmar, the Myanmar army will stop ethnic cleansing. This war of the Myanmar military should be ended.
Q: Have you talked to the British government on this issue?
A. Whenever we talk to the British government, we raise these issues. I have repeatedly appealed in this regard. I used to say it everywhere. I also told the UN even. Multiple countries have given us support. We have many countries with us, including Canada and the Netherlands. They also demanded an end to the war in Myanmar. They have to be humane.
Q: Do you feel hope, Myanmar will implement its commitment to take back the Rohingyas?
A: We are always optimistic. We want to have friendly relations with our neighbors. Hopefully, a solution will come through Myanmar and negotiations. They have repeatedly promised to take their people back, in safety, security, and dignity. They have agreed to build an acceptable environment. But such an environment has not been created yet.
Out of 2.5 lakh Rohingyas who left Myanmar before 1992, Myanmar has taken back 2.3 lakh Rohingyas after 1992. So we do believe Myanmar will keep their words to take their people back soon.
Q: When do you think this repatriation could happen?
A: As soon as possible, better for Bangladesh. Because, if the Rohingyas stay in Bangladesh for a long time, there will be lots of difficulties. Radicalism can develop, there could be more human trafficking.
Different types of crime will increase. The sooner the Rohingyas are repatriated, it is safe for Myanmar, for the whole region… not only for Bangladesh.
Q: In that case, will India put pressure on Myanmar? Or will the Rohingyas be rehabilitated to India?
Answer: India will put pressure on Myanmar. They have come forward to support Bangladesh, to strengthen Bangladesh’s demand, to stand beside Bangladesh. They want a sustainable solution to the Rohingya issue. As India has said, it will continue its efforts to implement the solution for the sake of peace of the region.