Bangladesh on Tuesday proposed to start repatriation of Rohingya refugees by the first quarter of this year.
The proposal was placed in a trilateral virtual meeting among Bangladesh, China and Myanmar, chaired by Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui of China.
Myanmar expressed its reservation over the deadline citing lack of logistical support and preparations.
Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen led the Bangladesh side while Deputy Minister of International Cooperation Hau Do Suan led Myanmar.
Foreign Ministry Director-General on Rohingya Affairs Delwar Hossain was also present in the meeting.
A number of decisions have been taken to pave the way for the repatriation including holding the working group in the first week of February which will be followed by another secretary-level meeting, Bangladesh foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen told a media briefing after the meeting.
He said that Myanmar, in principle, has agreed to start the repatriation but told the meeting that starting it by the first quarter of this year will be difficult for them.
Bangladesh foreign ministry officials, dealing with the issue, said they are optimistic to start the repatriation by the second quarter.
However, there was a difference of opinion on the mode of the repatriation.
“We proposed them to take back the Rohingyas on the basis of an area or village.
We said that if people of the same area can be sent together it will be easy to motivate them to go back as the lack of motivation seems to be the main hindrance,” the foreign secretary said.
Myanmar yet to agree to the proposal but they said that they will think over it, Mr Masud added.
The issue of the terrorist activities by Rohingyas was also raised by Myanmar but Bangladesh has made it clear that it never allows anybody to use its soil for any kind of terrorist activities.
The violence among Rohingya groups that took place recently was connected to criminal activities like drug trafficking and establishing supremacy, he said.
“We have told the meeting that the fencing of the camps will be finished by June and things will be under control after that,” the foreign secretary said.
“And before repatriation, they have to sign a form committing that they will not violate the law of Myanmar” he added.
In the meeting, Myanmar said that they will engage with the Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar camps to encourage them to go back to Rakhine.
“Previously they have talked to some Rohingyas but they felt that they talked to the wrong group of people,” said the foreign secretary.
However, China, which coordinated the trilateral mechanism, said it will provide free vaccination to the Rohingyas selected for repatriation.
China said the meeting was held in a friendly, candid and constructive atmosphere.
“The three parties reviewed the progress of previous work, discussed the way forward, and reiterated our commitment to creating favourable conditions for the early repatriation of displaced Myanmar residents from Rakhine,” said a spokesperson of the Chinese foreign ministry.
Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui pointed out that since 2017, China has been actively engaged in mediation between Bangladesh and Myanmar.
As a friend to both countries, China has been trying to bring the two parties closer by establishing various channels for dialogue, including informal foreign ministers’ meeting, vice-ministerial level meeting and tripartite working group mechanism’.
China also facilitates direct communication between Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui reiterated China’s position that the issue of displaced people from Rakhine is ultimately a bilateral one, hence bilateral negotiation and consultation between Bangladesh and Myanmar should be prioritised for finding a durable solution.
“The international community, China included, should play a constructive role instead of further complicating the situation. Promoting development is a fundamental way to address the issue. China is happy to see the positive outcomes of the meeting, and is ready, whenever necessary, to provide political and material assistance to complement the bilateral efforts,” said Chinese foreign ministry.
Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen and Deputy Minister Hau Do Suan discussed a possible road map for starting repatriation.
According to China, the two sides also agreed that the issue of repatriation should be resolved with goodwill and utmost sincerity. A sustainable solution would contribute to boosting Bangladesh-Myanmar cooperation, regional connectivity and shared prosperity for all.