Bangladesh proposes safe zone in Myanmar for Rohingya refugees

Bangladesh's Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen has called on Russia, China and India to help the country tackle the Rohingya refugee crisis.

In an interview with Anadolu news agency on Sunday, Momen said his government has proposed to establish a safe zone in Rakhine state in Myanmar from where the refugees fled state persecution in late 2017.

"If a safe zone is created under the vigilance of China, Russia and India along with the ASEAN states, Rohingya people will be encouraged to return to their own land," he said.

ASEAN stands for Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional bloc of 10 countries in Asia.

Momen added that guaranteeing the refugees who return Myanmar's citizenship will be a precondition of the proposal, which he said has been appreciated by India. He hoped other countries would follow suit.

Since August 2017, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the Muslim-majority Rohingya community.


The United Nations has also documented mass gang rapes, killings - including of infants and young children - brutal beatings and disappearances committed by Myanmar state forces.

Myanmar authorities treat Rohingya as unlawful citizens or illegal Bengalis based on a controversial 1982 Citizenship Law.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a repatriation deal in November 2017 with a two-year timeframe to return the Rohingya refugees to Myanmar.

The repatriation has been postponed due to global concerns about the safety of Rohingya in their home country. 

Momen said the main goal is to "repatriate them to their country of origin with due dignity and safety", asking help from international actors. 

"There are 1.2 million Rohingya now staying in Bangladesh. Although we are not a rich country, we are one of the most densely populated countries in the world," Momen said, praising Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her "benevolence" in giving the refuge. 

He offered to send some refugees to friendly countries of Myanmar so that the living conditions of the refugees improve and together these states can put pressure on Myanmar to take back the refugees.

Genocide

The top diplomat termed Bangladesh's policy on Rohingya "a role model for humanity", calling their persecution "the biggest genocide since World War II".

At least 43,000 Rohingya are missing and presumed dead, according to a March 2018 report (PDF) by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Parliamentarians for Human Rights.

A UN fact-finding mission last year said Myanmar military's campaign, which refugees say included mass killings and rape, was orchestrated with a "genocidal intent".

Last month, Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said the military chief should be prosecuted for "genocide". 

Other genocides since WWII include the one in Bosnia's Srebrenica, which killed over 8,000 in 1995, and the Rwandan genocide, which killed between 500,000 and a million people in 1994.

'Foe to none'

Momen said the influx of Rohingya refugees was triggered by Myanmar's policy and that the country should be held accountable.

"Now, the question is how long we give them temporary shelter. They must go back to their country of birth. The problem has been created by our friendly country Myanmar, and they should resolve it."

He warned that Rohingya refugees living in squalid makeshift settlements in the southern part of the country are at a risk of radicalisation.

"If it lingers for a long period, our fear is that there could be a rise of radicalism, instability and uncertainty. This may cause difficulties not only for Myanmar and Bangladesh, but also for the whole region."

Momen, however, assured that the Bangladesh government is dealing with the crisis with utmost sincerity and watchfulness, resulting in no report of radical activity until now.

In reply to a question about the foreign policy of Bangladesh, the minister said: "The essence of our foreign policy is friendship to all and foe to none. We have no enemies."

SOURCE: Al Jazeera