The foreign ministry rejected a move of the World Bank seeking Bangladesh to engage in an initiative to work out ways to ensure granting the Rohingya people of Myanmar more rights including procuring lands, living in places of their choice while enjoying total freedom of movement in the host country.
The move, if implemented, will create scopes for the Rohingya people of Myanmar to get permanence in Bangladesh by creating a pathway for local integration, senior government officials believe.
The WB initiative includes provisions to prepare the local communities to receive more displaced foreign nationals, which is likely to become a pull factor to encourage more Rohingyas to enter Bangladesh from restive Myanmar, they said.
World Bank country director Mercy Tembon forwarded a 33-page document to finance minister AHM Mustafa Kamal on June 30, seeking Bangladesh’s engagement in an effort of the bank to finalise the ‘Refugee Policy Reform Framework,’ involving primarily the refugee-hosting countries seeking funds from at least two tracks of the bank mechanisms for supporting refugees and people in refugee-like-situation in their respective territories.
There is no mention of the Rohingya people and even Myanmar as a country in the document, but the WB indirectly hooked up the Rohingya issues in the move mentioning that it has taken country-specific data on local refugee issues from the UNHCR. New Age accessed the UNHCR document prepared in this regard.
The WB has sought to create provisions so that the ‘refugees can purchase, lease and use housing, land and property in the same way as nationals, without restriction on location, type, or duration, or at least benefit from the most favourable treatment accorded to nationals of a foreign country in the same circumstances,’ according to the document forwarded by the country director.
The bank seeks a mechanism to allow refugees to choose their place of residence and move freely across the (host) country’ as nationals of a foreign country.
The bank also seeks provisions allowing refugees full access into national public services, including education, skills development, recognition of academic qualifications, driving license, health and financial services, and accessing the labour market and starting businesses the same way as nationals of the host country.
The WB described the move, undertaken in cooperation with the UNHCR, as a ‘part of a broader international effort’ to encourage the adoption of sound government policies, if required by shifting policies and ensuring their implementation for the management of forced displacement situations guaranteeing refugees administrative, civil and legal status and rights.
The bank also described the initiative as a move for a robust preparedness in the host country ‘for increased’ and ‘potential new refugee flows.’
The inflow of forcibly displaced can also alter the social makeup of the local community by affecting various groups in different ways, the bank said.
The WB asked the Bangladesh government to provide its opinion on the move by July. The Economic Relations Division of the finance ministry sought the opinion of several ministries and wings of the governments on the matter.
The government will require substantive policy changes on refugee issues, including becoming a party to the 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees and its 1967 protocol, if it decides to agree to the World Bank proposal, senior government officials said.
The foreign ministry has opposed the move stating that it will create scopes for the Rohingya people to get integrated into Bangladesh’s populace, which will eventually attract members of the community, about six lakh, still living in Myanmar, they said with reference to a letter of the ministry to ERD on July 18.
The foreign ministry also opposed the idea of taking financial support from the government from international financing organisations, including the WB, for foreign nationals in general and the Rohingya people in particular.
Foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen said sending back the Rohingya people to Myanmar is the prime target of the Bangladesh government and taking financial support by the government for them ‘is conflicting’ to the long-term goal on Rohingya issues.
Stating the move for integrating the Rohingya people in the workforce here as ‘impractical,’ he said, ‘Bangladesh is a densely populated country and does not require a foreign workforce. Many of your young people are still unemployed.’
However, the government is open to providing the Rohingyas education in Myanmar curriculum and language and skills training commensurate with the need in that country so that they can maintain livelihood after their repatriation, he told New Age.
The Bangladesh government prioritised the voluntary return of the Rohingya people to Myanmar ‘as the only solution to their plight’ and its policy ‘renders the Rohingya refugees reliant upon critical and life-saving humanitarian assistance, which poses challenges in an increasingly resource-strained environment,’ according to a UNHCR document prepared as a part of the move to finalise the Refugee Policy Regulatory Framework of the WB.
The WB, however, is yet to send the proposal to the Myanmar authorities, according to the information available so far from the restive country.
New Age sought information in this regard from several UNHCR and the World Bank officials, including the WB country director in Myanmar, Mariam Sherman, by e-mail on July 28 morning, but she did not reply till 6:00pm on July 29.
The UNHCR office in Myanmar is totally unaware of any such move, according to diplomatic sources.
Arnold Marseille, senior external affairs officer of the WB in Myanmar, however, said in his reply that the WB ‘temporarily put a hold on disbursements on our operations in Myanmar’ with effect from February 1, 2021.