Discover more from Rohingya Refugee News
"Come and Talk" Charade: The Myanmar Delegation's Pilot Repatriation for Rohingya
Myanmar Delegation's Hollow Confidence-Building & Pilot Repatriation
A delegation of 36 Myanmar Junta officials began their visit to Bangladesh yesterday to kick-start the pilot repatriation process. They brought with them an updated booklet (since the original booklet given to Rohingya visitors to Rakhine State in May 2023).
From the text of this new booklet, labelled “published for distribution only to those displaced persons who will be repatriated under the Pilot Project", it is evident that the Myanmar Government remains steadfast in its commitment to the National Verification Card (NVC) system. The ostensibly functional elements of the NVC — promoting freedom of movement, livelihood opportunities, access to education, and healthcare — are dangled before the Rohingya as seductive baits.
To the Rohingya, this card is nothing less than a symbol of their ongoing persecution, a grotesque badge they've come to disdainfully label the "genocide card". Historical evidence stands testament to the brutal lengths the Myanmar authorities have gone, torturing the Rohingya into accepting these NVCs and imposing severe restrictions on the movement and livelihoods of those who dared to refuse. So, in essence, the game remains unchanged. The Rohingya are cornered: accept the NVC and the transient practical advantages it offers, or face the ruthless torture that has been their reality for years.
In Myanmar, not only are the actual rights conferred by the NVC process controversial, but the process itself is also steeped in controversy. Instead of honouring the Rohingya's self-proclaimed identity, the application forms for these cards often use religious labels such as Muslim or Islam, or misleadingly categorise them as Bengali (pre-filled sometimes), suggesting they are foreigners. This approach seeks to diminish the Rohingya's rightful claim to citizenship and exacerbate their disenfranchisement.
Disturbingly, the only effort to address the Rohingya's genuine concerns about the NVC is a cartoonish graphic, in which caricatured figures of Rohingya utter statements that seem absurd: "I am not a foreigner", "I am a resident of Myanmar", and perhaps the most demeaning of all, "We are entitled to apply for citizenship", scream from this graphic. This last line, in its blatant simplicity, is a stark mockery of their dire situation. Rather than an immediate acknowledgement of their status as citizens or a promise of its restoration, it reads as a cruel joke, making a complete farce of the complex citizenship conundrum the Rohingya face and debasing the very notion of repatriation.
Now, to understand the backdrop to this NVC focus, one needs to dive into the Kafka-esque realm of Myanmar's citizenship laws. The Rohingya crisis largely orbits the citizenship debate, principally shaped by Myanmar's 1982 Citizenship Law. This law isn't merely about administrative nuances; it systemically denies the Rohingya citizenship rights. A 2019 report by Fortify Rights succinctly summarises the history:
“Using a citizenship law entered into force in 1982, the government denies access to full citizenship for individuals who do not belong to certain “national” ethnic groups determined by the Government of Myanmar. The government relies on an arbitrary and disputed list of 135 recognised ethnic groups that excludes Rohingya, effectively stripping them of access to full citizenship rights under the current law. Successive Myanmar governments also created a series of administrative “citizenship scrutiny” processes involving a variety of “identification cards” that progressively limited the rights of Rohingya. The NVC is the most recent process that fails to confer rights to Rohingya and is implemented through further human rights violations.”
The 1982 Citizenship Law of Myanmar, created by the military dictatorship at the time, doesn't just throw up bureaucratic hurdles; it's a masterclass in how red tape can be weaponised to marginalise ethnic or religious minorities throughout Myanmar.
After enduring six years in perilous camps, one has to question: is this convoluted bureaucratic labyrinth truly the incentive being offered to the Rohingya to return home? The deep-seated crisis of trust and confidence becomes evident when considering these actions and policies, a sentiment discussed by Mizanur Rahman at the press briefing after the meeting. See below.
Mizanur Rahman: Blind Optimism or Calculated Diplomacy?
As the ramifications of the NVC become increasingly apparent, certain key figures in the repatriation process are offering contrasting viewpoints. Mizanur Rahman, the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, is a prominent voice in this regard. When probed about the Rohingya's crisis of confidence, here's Rahman's almost verbatim response.
Those set to be repatriated, or involved in the process, are grappling with a crisis of confidence. To address these concerns, the Bangladesh government, foreign ministry, and other agencies have had multiple discussions with Myanmar authorities. This marks their second "Come and Talk" visit. They had sent a verification team earlier, who stayed for a week. Now, another team has arrived, comprising 36 members. The social welfare minister of Rakhine state met with heads of approximately 100 Rohingya families, engaging in detailed discussions. They addressed various questions, including the process for acquiring citizenship, their freedom of movement, and how they would obtain voter ID cards, amongst others like their places of origin. We aim to kickstart the repatriation process, ensuring it is sustainable, dignified, and voluntary. We're optimistic that through these efforts, both sides, Myanmar and the Rohingya, will overcome the prevailing mistrust and work towards lasting repatriation.
With Mizanur Rahman's optimistic words about the delegation's visit, I am prompted to question the depth of his understanding regarding the 1982 Citizenship Law. Does he realise that it's not just an administrative matter and that this law has been a systematic barrier depriving the Rohingya of their rights for decades? Despite his series of 'Come and Talk' dialogues and diplomatic dances with Myanmar, one can't help but question if Rahman genuinely harbours any hope or if he's merely playing a scripted role in a farce.
Let's cut through the diplomatic niceties: the 1982 Citizenship Law is a blatant affront to human rights, a relic from military dictators that institutionalises discrimination. Under its tripartite structure, the Rohingya are relegated to the margins, virtually barred from claiming full citizenship. Mizanur Rahman bandies about terms like “confidence-building” and envisions a “durable, dignified, and voluntary” repatriation. But with Myanmar steadfastly clinging to such a prejudiced law, how can we speak of trust or a sustainable return? The stubborn adherence to this legislation isn't just a policy decision — it's a testament to Myanmar's unwillingness to face the Rohingya crisis head-on.
ASEAN, UNDP, and UNHCR
Finally, as a quick aside, the junta booklet contains this text: - "ASEAN, UNDP, and UNHCR representatives will be on-site to provide necessary assistance with the request of the Myanmar Government to ensure the smooth implementation of the Pilot Project for the reception and resettlement of returnees upon their arrival."
Are these references to multilateral institutions supposed to make the Rohingya feel safe and secure about the Pilot Repatriation? Because that certainly isn't the case.
Gone are the days when names like ASEAN, UNDP, and UNHCR commanded respect and trust in Myanmar. Their reputations are tarnished, stained by what many see as their appeasement and complicity with the Myanmar government. Their often opaque operations and lack of transparency have not helped. The junta booklet may proclaim their involvement in the "Pilot Project for the reception and resettlement of returnees," but one has to wonder: to what end? With the bedrock policies of Myanmar remaining stubbornly unchanged, the actual impact and efficacy of their assistance seems, at best, questionable. UNDP, UNHCR - these once-venerated organisations need to reflect on whether they are truly agents of change, or mere pawns in Myanmar's political games.
In conclusion, while the Myanmar government continues its "Come and Talk" rhetoric and aggressively promotes the NVC as the panacea for the Rohingya crisis, a closer examination reveals an alarming lack of innovation for the Pilot Repatriation. The NVC card, coupled with the trivialisation of Rohingya concerns through cartoon graphics, underscores a glaring lack of fresh, empathetic, and constructive ideas. It is a reminder that genuine solutions require more than superficial gestures; they demand a willingness to listen, understand, and most importantly, change.
Rohingya Refugee News is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.