The words that bother Myanmar


Asianbangla, Dhaka : Myanmar has requested Bangladesh not to use the words “Forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals” on the registration cards issued to Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar.

Instead, the Myanmar authorities, during a meeting with a Bangladesh delegation last week, requested to use words “Displaced persons from Rakhine State” as their identities, said Bangladeshi officials present at the meetings.

“Yes, there was a discussion on the matter during the meeting. But, Bangladesh authorities have not taken any formal decision regarding this yet,” Refugee Relief & Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) Mohammad Abul Kalam told the reporter yesterday.

However, Myanmar claims Bangladesh has “agreed” to stop labeling Rohingyas as “forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals” in the registration cards, reported The Irrawaddy, a news portal founded by Burmese exiles living in Thailand.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has expressed concern over this matter.

“While changing a few words on a refugee’s ID card may seem inconsequential, for the 700,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh who fled ethnic cleansing in Myanmar a year ago, it is essential,” said Bill Frelick, director of Refugee Rights Program of HRW, a New York-based global rights watchdog.

It also said Bangladesh has recently agreed to change the wording on their ID cards from “Myanmar nationals” to “displaced persons from Rakhine State.”

This change signals that Myanmar doesn’t intend to honour the citizenship rights of Rohingyas, nor acknowledge the cause of their displacement – security force operations that included murder, widespread rape, mass arson, and pillage.

“It also suggests Bangladesh’s willingness to dismiss Rohingyas’ rights as refugees as repatriation plans move forward,” said Bill Frelick.

Since August last year, over 720,000 Rohingyas fled the brutal military crackdown in Rakhine State of Myanmar where they have been denied citizenship, basic rights, and freedom of movement since 1982.

Rohingyas are also not recognised as an ethnic group in Myanmar; rather as illegal Bengali immigrants.

Amid huge global criticism, Myanmar signed a repatriation deal with Bangladesh in November and was scheduled to begin repatriation on January 23 of this year. Though Bangladesh handed over a list of over 8,000 Rohingyas, not a single one has been able to return.

They demand guaranteed citizenship, security and recognition as Rohingyas in Myanmar, as well as to return to their houses and not to the camps that Myanmar authorities built.

Earlier in June this year, Myanmar signed a tripartite agreement with UN Refugee Agency and UN Development Programme, but until August 9, the UN staff had no effective access to Northern Rakhine to assess the preparations of Myanmar.

The UN said the environment in the Rakhine State is not yet conducive for Rohingyas to return.

Against this backdrop, Myanmar has made the new proposal to change the words on the ID cards during meetings held in Naypyidaw and Rakhine between Myanmar officials and a Bangladesh delegation led by Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali.

On August 14, The Irrawaddy reported Myanmar’s Social Welfare Minister U Win Myat Aye asked Mahmood Ali to change the wordings on the ID cards.

Myat Aye said Myanmar objected to the words “forcibly displaced” because, he argued, most of the refugees were not “technically forced out by the military”. He conceded that some were forced, but that “most left later on as the gradual departure of neighbours made it untenable for them to continue to make a living in their communities”.

“They just left very gradually and no government officials gave orders or forcibly drove them out. The real situation is not the way they describe it,” U Win Myat Aye told The Irrawaddy.

He said some of the displaced people may be Myanmar nationals but most of them would need to go through a verification process in order to return to Myanmar.



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