Interview with Dr. Win Myat Aye over repatriation of returnees
On 24 January 2018, a group comprising members of the Advisory Board of the Committee for Implementation of the Recommendations on Rakhine, Secretariat staff, and members of local and foreign media went to inspect reception centers for receiving displaced persons who left the Maungtaw region of Rakhine State. These centers are Taungpyo Lat Wae reception center, Nga Khu Ya reception center and Hla Phoe Khaung transit center. They inspected the readiness of the centers fully manned with all the requisite government service personnel.
An interview was conducted with Dr. Win Myat Aye, Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement regarding the arrangements already made by the Union Government for the repatriation process.
Q: Please tell us about the repatriation process for returnees.
A: I will now tell you about the repatriation process of returnees from Bangladesh. To do this we need an agreement between our two governments. We have already signed such an agreement. This agreement is for the repatriation of returnees who left our country. On the 15 of this month we have already held a meeting of the Joint Working Group. We now have an agreement as a result of the meeting. On the 16th of this month we gave a list to the Bangladesh side of returnees we can accept for repatriation. 750 muslims and 508 Hindus. According to the agreement which has been signed with Bangladesh, we can accept repatriation within two months from the date of signature. The day that we can commence repatriation is 23 January. According to our agreement with Bangladesh, we need to be ready to begin the repatriation on that date. We therefore made preparations and we are now ready.
Also in the agreement, when they send the people to our side, there are two methods. One method is to select the people who wish to return. That is we have to make a list of such people. When they make this list, they have to fill in forms. We have already sent these forms to Bangladesh. After they have filled in these forms, they will send these forms to Myanmar. Then we have to check these forms. We have to see if these people have lived in Myanmar or not. Also to see if terrorists are included in the list or not. After making the verifications we send back the list to Bangladesh. After the Bangladesh side has received this verified list they can send these returnees in groups. At the moment there are two reception centers. This is also mentioned in the agreement. They are Taung Pyo Let Wae by land and Nga Khu Ya by sea. At these places, we can receive 150 returnees at one place and 300 per day in two places, 5 days per week. That is 1500 in total per week. Right now we have sent a list for 750 and 508. From this list the Bangladesh side will compile a list of people who wish to return. We have already checked and verified this list so it is easy for us. So they have to send us a list of people who wish to return. Thus we can begin the repatriation for the first batch. On 23 January our side was ready. But no one returned. Those who were supposed to return never came. We did not receive any lists. There are many possibilities. This is how this process has to be carried step by step. Those who wish to return have to fill up forms. And this has to be voluntary repatriation. Do these people really wish to come back. It also depends on this. They have to fill in all the forms. The procedures have many steps. For them to send back these people, I wonder if the delays have been caused by these many steps. As of today we have not seen any. No lists, no people.
As far as we are concerned, we are ready. Why did we have to have everything ready. It is because according to the agreement, it is said that the repatriation process can begin from this date. So if they send the returnees on this date, we cannot refuse. We have a duty to honor this date. Our country is the receiving country.
Those who have lived in our country legally went over to the other side. It is the duty of this Union Government to receive them. Our Union Government cannot act unilaterally. Our two countries have to act in accordance with the agreement. Now on 23 January, we are ready. But I have explained earlier the reason they did not return. There can be many reasons. We do not wish to say anything about this. But it is certain that from our side we are ready.
The Advisory Board for the Committee for implementation of the recommendations for Rakhine has arrived. I am the Chairman of the Committee for implementation of the recommendations for Rakhine. In the advisory board there are five international professionals and five local professionals. Coincidentally this advisory board arrived on the 23rd January, the day the repatriation process was supposed to begin. So they decided to come here and that is why they are here today. So they have seen with their own eyes. They saw that our repatriation centers are ready. The transit center which is to serve as a holding place was also ready. They will not be kept here for a long time. Only for a short while. If you ask me how long, we have to build houses for the Muslims. Their houses had burnt down.
So they will have to stay in the transit center until the houses have been built. They will leave the transit center as soon as the houses have been built. If they ask me how long they will have to stay in the transit center, that is my answer. They will have to stay in the transit center only while the houses are being built. They will move to the houses as soon as the houses are ready. They will have to stay in the transit center only while the houses are not yet ready. I don’t think it’s going to be long, only a few months. Why? We want to get this done before the monsoon arrives. We want the construction work done. That is why the first group of returnees will be repatriated quickly. This is how we will receive returnees. We can receive 300 per day. We can receive about 1500 per week. This is how we have made full preparations.
Q: Since they have to live in the transit center till the houses are built, I want to know what arrangements have been made by the Myanmar side for their food, lodging and health.
A: We call this “Physical Arrangement”. In cases where we receive returnees, first they are received at the reception center, and then they are moved to the transit center. We have made detailed arrangements for each of the stages.
Q: Please let me know about arrangements for livelihood and health care for the returnees from Bangladesh.
A: Under our Physical Arrangement, we will verify the returnees at the gate here first. If it is found that returnees had lived in Myanmar according to our documents and list, they will stay this camp for just one night, and they will be transported to Hla Phoe Khaung transit camp where they will be accommodated and will be supplied with food and provided with health care services. Staff from departments concerned are ready here to perform their their duties.
Staff from Ministry of Health and Sports, from Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, Immigration Department and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Because, in case we find wrong doings, we need to contact with Bangladeshi officials to solve these issues.
Q: Bangladesh is not ready for repatriation of returnees though the two countries agreed to begin the repatriation on 23 January. So, please let us know how the two governments will jointly carry out the repatriation process.
A: We are ready to begin the repatriation as from 23 January. But, they sent the list of displaced people who want to return and we scrutinized the list and sent it back to them. The returnees need to fill forms in Bangladesh. They need to take some time to complete the process.
I think that the reason why they were not ready to begin the repatriation is due to delays for repatriation process on their part. We sent the list of first batch of returnees on 16 January after the two countries agreed. I think that If they take two weeks for the repatriation process, they might not be ready for the repatriation. We are ready for repatriation. So, we just need to wait for day they will send the list of returnees to us.
Q: In your capacity as the Chairman of the Committee for Implementing the Recommendations on Rakhine State, please say something for the repatriation.
A: Since our government took office, we have been striving and giving priority for harmony between the two communities. We must find the root cause of the conflict and must settle it. When we do it, we have considered recommendations of Mr. Kofi Annan and findings of the investigation commission led by Vice President U Myint Swe. Now, we are implement the recommendations. The first priority is national verification in accordance with the 1982 citizenship Act. We have to take steps for scrutinizing the displaced people. They would get freedom of movement and would gain access to education and health care services and would get job opportunities in accordance with the status granted after the scrutinization. If they are okay, no more conflicts will happen again here. That’s why, we are implementing the recommendations giving priority to this step.