A dangerous deal

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The Rohingya repatriation deal finalized between Bangladesh and Myanmar is no deal at all. This extremely dubious agreement follows preliminary talks in November between Dhaka and the government of Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

It provides for the weekly return of 1,500 Rohingya so that all 650,000 of these victims of ethnic cleansing will have returned to Myanmar within two years. But there are large and extremely dangerous holes in the agreement which in fact offers no benefit whatsoever to the refugees.

The most worrying element is that nowhere in the document is the name “Rohingya” used. Moreover, they are referred to as “residents” not “citizens” of Myanmar, where they have lived for generations.

Furthermore, the Suu Kyi government plans to quarter the returning refugees in internment camps, some of which will probably be the same prisons into which part of the population was herded 18 months ago, “for its own protection”. There is no provision for the rebuilding of property destroyed by Buddhist thugs with the help of the security forces. One of the most absurd claims of Suu Kyi and her people is that the Rohingya burnt down their own homes. Not even Adolph Hitler had the gall to claim that Germany’s Jews destroyed their own synagogues, smashed their own windows and looted their own stores during the Nazi regime’s appalling Kristallnacht assaults on Jewish property in 1938.

It is hardly surprising that the first reaction from Rohingya Muslims sheltering in Bangladesh has been distinctly unenthusiastic. They may be living in challenging conditions in sprawling camps but at least they are safe and they are free. International aid charities can now reach them and there is a major effort to restore these often starved and traumatized refugees to better health. An outbreak of diphtheria is currently being tackled by dedicated medical teams from Bangladesh and abroad.

Such support was not available to the Rohingya when they were back home and is unlikely to be available if they do agree to return under the present conditions. Indeed, it can be expected that there will be a general refusal to return to Myanmar to what seems clear will be further persecution.

The Bangladeshi government of Sheikh Hasina has been placed in an extremely difficult position by the Rohingya influx. It wants them to return home to Rakhine province but has unwisely grasped the apparent rescue line tossed to it so cynically by Suu Kyi. Since the terms of the deal do absolutely nothing to address the core issues, including the entitlement of Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar citizenship, to live in peace with freedom of worship and enjoy full rights before the courts, it is more than likely there will be a mass refusal by the refugees to leave the, albeit squalid, safety of their present shelters.

At that point Suu Kyi and her people will be able to say that the Rohingya would rather stay in the country in which her regime claims falsely that they belong. Thus the Bangladeshi government will have actually defeated its own aims. And Suu Kyi and the Buddhist bigots whom she refuses to rein in will have pulled off a blatant and shameful exercise in ethnic cleansing. The international community must force the scrapping of this dangerous deal.


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