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Myanmar's Pilot Repatriation - A field report.
Refugees told they would would be given priority in all the processes of repatriation or Myanmar citizenship or 3rd country resettlement
This report was compiled by individuals in Teknaf who prefer to remain unnamed.
The head Majhi of Camp 26 visited several Rohingya shelters on December 3rd, 2022, requesting that refugees hand over their Myanmar household documents, known as SweTinSit. These used to be produced during an annual population census conducted by Myanmar government officials in northern Rakhine state. The Mahji told the refugees that if they gave their documents, there would be the possibility that the Myanmar government would grant them full citizenship and/or they would receive priority in the repatriation process or resettlement to a third country. (This process of document collection had started earlier, as in my tweet below of November 23rd, 2022).
While some Rohingya refugees were skeptical and refused to hand over their documents, many complied and gave them to the Camp In Charge (CIC). Similar requests were made in other Rohingya camps. However, the Rohingya refugees in Camp 26 were reportedly particularly pressured by camp authorities, leading many to ultimately give up their household documents to the block Majhis to avoid any trouble.
No Questions Please
The Rohingya refugees were given very little notice before being transported to Teknaf for the pilot repatriation process. However, during the process, which started on March 15th, the refugees were left with unanswered questions when they asked the Myanmar delegation about their return to Myanmar. The presence of Bangladeshi police officers and other Bangladeshi agencies made the refugees too afraid to ask further questions. Furthermore, the Myanmar delegation instructed the refugees not to disclose any information about the proceedings. Some refugees only learned the purpose of their trip to Teknaf upon arrival.
On the second day, 15 Rohingya families initially declined to be interviewed due to concerns about not being granted citizenship rights. However, the block Majhis threatened to seize their refugee documents (data cards as the refugees call them) if they did not participate. Fourteen families then agreed to be interviewed. One person refused. We are not sure of his current whereabouts. Previously, on the first day, two families refused to participate and they returned to their refugee camp on the same day after being ordered to do so by camp authorities. They returned on 16th March to be interviewed by the Myanmar delegation.
The junta delegation is only conducting interviews with one member of each family, even if there are multiple family members present.
The delegation asked the refugees about their village and township in Myanmar, the number of government offices in the township, their frequency of visits, and their knowledge about the location of police stations. They also asked about the number of children they had, how many were born in Myanmar and how many in Bangladesh, and when they arrived in Bangladesh. The delegation inquired about the name of the village administrator and the number of villages near their own. The questions suggest a focus on verifying if the refugees are "Bengali interlopers."
Not unexpectedly, the junta delegation currently visiting Bangladesh failed to enquire about any of the important questions that could help facilitate the safe and dignified return of refugees to Myanmar. They did not seek to understand the needs and concerns of the refugees (even apart from their demands for citizenship). Nor did they provide any information about support processes to ensure successful reintegration into Myanmar. This lack of inquiry raises concerns about the junta's commitment to protecting the rights and welfare of returning refugees and ensuring a sustainable and peaceful reintegration process.