Indonesia has called on the government of Myanmar to create safe conditions for the return of hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya refugees currently living in Bangladesh. The country’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi issued the call at a news conference on January 21, after an online meeting of foreign ministers from the 10 nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
“Indonesia earnestly hopes that the Myanmar government can immediately create favorable conditions in Rakhine State so that repatriation can be done voluntarily, safely, and in a dignified manner as soon as possible,” Retno said.
Most of the 1 million Rohingya currently in Bangladesh fled the country in August 2017, when the Myanmar army, or Tatmadaw, launched a brutal “clearance operation” in Rakhine State in the west of the country. Justified as a response to attacks by Rohingya militants, the offensive saw soldiers and vigilantes torch villages, shoot civilians, and drive an estimated 750,000 desperate people over the border into Bangladesh.Since 2018, ASEAN has sought to resolve the humanitarian crisis by planning for the eventual repatriation of the refugees to Rakhine.
The comment from the Indonesian foreign minister followed a meeting between Bangladesh and Myanmar, brokered by China, when the two nations reached a tentative agreement to begin repatriation in the second quarter of this year.During their virtual meeting, which was hosted by incoming ASEAN chair Brunei, Southeast Asian foreign ministers applauded the agreement between Dhaka and Naypyidaw, and reaffirmed their support for the repatriation plan. “We welcomed the Government of Myanmar’s continued efforts in addressing the situation in the Rakhine State, including commencing the repatriation process in accordance with its bilateral agreements withBangladesh,” the ministers said in a joint statement.
The comments indicate ASEAN’s – Bangladesh’s – desire to prevent the Rohingya refugee camps becoming a permanent fixture. But repatriation continues to face formidable obstacles. Two earlier attempts to begin the voluntary return of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar have already failed, mostly because the conditions inside Rakhine State were not safe or secure enough for people to return.