Until now, the Bangladesh government has been labeling Rohingya refugees out of Myanmar as “forcibly displaced” since October of last year. At that point in time, approximately 500,000 people had fled from the military violence in Myanmar across the border and into Bangladesh. Since then, an additional 200,000 has made for a total of 700,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh due to the recent conflict. They have also been issuing IDs to the refugees out of Myanmar/Burma, which read: “Myanmar National’s Registration Card.”
The Myanmar government has asked Bangladesh to cease both labeling systems, though no replacement terms have been offered to the public as of yet. Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed to “revise the language used on the cards issued by Bangladesh.”
The argument is that the military did not technically forcibly displace anyone — the military campaign in the area may have led many to flee, but technically they did not round people up and push them across the border. Myanmar also has historically denied, again and again, the mass majority of the allegations of human rights abuses which came from various sources — from aid organizations and other NGOs on the ground, to fact-finding missions and investigations, as well as in-depth journalistic investigations. The denials of these atrocities fall in line with this new request for a change in terminology, as allowing Bangladesh to use terms such as “forcibly displaced” would continue to add a bad impression on Myanmar’s foreign policy.
Instead, U Win Myat Aye, the Minister for Social Welfare, insisted in a conversation with a Myanmar news outlet, The Irrawaddy, that, “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.”
The alleged “repatriation efforts” on the part of the Myanmar government are barely worth mentioning. Little fruit has come of it, and many on the ground remain skeptical whenever it gets brought up.
These efforts to re-label the refugees could very easily be in the spirit of decidedly not repatriating the Rohingya, and letting them live in the refugee camps in Bangladesh. The 1982 Citizenship Law essentially inherently denies the Rohingya citizenship in Myanmar by nature of being Rohingya — even if their grandfather was a member of Myanmar parliament and they have never been outside the country (neither have their parents), until they were forced into Bangladesh.
And so, with any further repatriation efforts, if the government continues to strip the legality of any Rohingya living in Myanmar, then they can say “we tried” after denying the majority of Rohingya from re-entering. Changing these terms is yet another step in this direction — especially changing their identification from “Myanmar National’s Registration Card” to something else. Many other countries would not care so much what labels their neighbor uses on refugees.
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth said back in January that, “Some 58% of the refugees are children, many of whom are still traumatized by their experiences of violence … It is critical that their rights and needs in terms of protection and aid are front and centre in any agreement to return families to Myanmar. Return of refugees to Myanmar must be voluntary, safe and dignified.”