Jakarta. Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi on Friday (24/11) welcomed progress made to repatriate Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar’s Rakhine State from neighboring Bangladesh and emphasized the importance of setting up infrastructure and ensuring security for the refugees upon their return.
On Thursday, Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement on the possible repatriation of more than 620,000 Rohingya, marking a new bilateral step taken by the two countries to address the unprecedented exodus.
"The challenge now is how they will implement the agreement, as the situation is very fluid. But there’s no harm in giving these two countries an opportunity to step forward together to address this issue of repatriation," Retno said on the sidelines of an event in Jakarta.
Retno added that Rakhine State still needs to be set up to ensure that the refugees will have shelters and economic opportunities when they return.
During her recent visit to Naypyidaw, Myanmar, Retno met with Myanmar Social Minister Win Myat Aye and discussed efforts to set up infrastructure in the troubled region.
"We discussed preparations for infrastructure that they [Myanmar government] need to do to welcome the return of the refugees, who must return, return dignified and to safety," Retno said.
Retno also spoke with Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali on Friday, who informed her that a joint working group will be set up with representatives from both Myanmar and Bangladesh. The working group will supervise the repatriation process.
The return of refugees is expected to start within two months, Retno was told.
"It’s very important that there’s a security guarantee for when the refugees return to Rakhine State. If this security aspect is not guaranteed or considered, we are very concerned that it will lead to other problems or incidents," Retno said.
As for the Rohingya’s citizenship status, Retno told reporters that the issue has yet to be discussed by Bangladesh and Myanmar.
The Rohingya are denied citizenship and regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite claiming roots in Myanmar that go back centuries.
"Everything will be carried out step by step, the committee set up to implement the recommendations by Kofi Annan will address this as the document also touched upon the issue of citizenship," Retno said.
Myanmar said the current agreement was based on a 1992 repatriation agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar. However, the old agreement poses a number of issues, such as requiring Rohingya to prove their residency and citizenship. Many refugees fled Rakhine State without papers or any documentation.
Amnesty International said that the requirements showcase an "unrealistic request" if they remain in the new deal, especially because Myanmar authorities have actively revoked all forms of documentation for the Rohingya.
The rights group said this week that years of severe and discriminatory laws, regulations, practices and attacks against the Rohingya in Rakhine State constitute apartheid.