Bangladesh looks forward with optimism as the UN Security Council delegation begins a visit to Bangladesh today, eight months into the start of an unprecedented refugee influx in August last year.
The government hopes the UNSC visit, which is rare in the region, will pave the way for a sustainable solution to the decades-old Rohingya crisis.
Diplomats in Dhaka say the visit can help the 15-member powerful world body truly understand the ground realities as the delegation will interact with the refugees in camps and listen to relevant actors.
The delegation includes permanent representative of the UK and deputy permanent representatives of the US, Russia, France and China -- all permanent members of the council.
The rest are permanent representatives of Bolivia, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Sweden and deputy permanent representative from Ivory Coast.
During the visit to Bangladesh, the representatives will call on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and meet refugees and local officials in Cox's Bazar.
The delegation will also go to Myanmar and expected to hold talks with Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday and visit violence-torn villages in Rakhine State the next day.
The Rohingyas have been facing persecutions since the 1980s and fled to Bangladesh in various waves from Rakhine where they are denied of citizenship. Dhaka wants a safe and sustainable repatriation of over a million refugees, including those who arrived since August.
"Earlier, the Security Council members could not reach any consensus on the Rohingya issue. This time we hope that their visit to the camps and interaction with the Rohingyas will help them be convinced," said Shahriar Alam, state minister for foreign affairs.
Dhaka hopes that the members of the delegation, including those who earlier opposed strong actions against Myanmar, will realise the magnitude of the problem and persuade their respective governments to go for concrete steps, he said.
"We want Myanmar to take steps to repatriate Rohingyas immediately without any further delay and also implement the agreements signed between the two countries," Shahriar told The Daily Star.
“Our focus will be on safe and sustainable repatriation of the Rohingyas.”
Though Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a repatriation deal, the UN said the situation in Rakhine is not conducive to a safe and sustainable return of the Rohingya.
The refugees themselves are fearful of the return to Rakhine where the security forces allegedly raped Rohingya women, killed thousands of people of the community and burnt and looted their houses.
The UN termed the atrocities as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing, while rights groups called it genocide and crimes against humanity and urged the UNSC to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.
The UNSC has failed to take any concrete actions against Myanmar so far mostly because of oppositions from China and Russia.
Bangladesh's Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Abul Kalam said after the delegation's visit to the refugee camps, he would brief them about the overall refugee situation here.
“I will mainly focus on the repatriation issue while the deputy commissioner of Cox's Bazar will talk about the government response,” Kalam told The Daily Star.
BGB 34 Battalion Commanding Officer Lt Col Monzurul Hassan Khan said he would brief the delegation on the plight of Rohingyas, based on what they witnessed during the peak of the influx.
Kamal Hossain, deputy commissioner of Cox's Bazar, said he will brief the delegation about the government response on humanitarian assistance -- how the government, along with other aid agencies, has prevented disease outbreaks among refugees.
'SITUATION IS NOT ACCEPTABLE'
AFP reports Kuwait's Ambassador Mansour al-Otaibi said the visit was not about “naming and shaming” Myanmar, but that “the message will be very clear for them: the international community is following the situation and has great interest in resolving it.”
“We are coming to see how can we help, how can we push things forward,” he said, stressing that the current situation was “not acceptable.”
“700,000 people have fled their country and they cannot go back. It's a humanitarian disaster.”
British Ambassador Karen Pierce said it was “incredibly important” for the council to see the situation on the ground as it considers “what needs to be done next to help Myanmar develop as a modern, political and economic entity.”
Akshaya Kumar, UN deputy director for Human Rights Watch, said, “This trip represents an opportunity for the council to press the reset button.”
“They have taken almost no action,” she said.
The AP adds that Lord Nazir Ahmed, the United Kingdom's minister of state for the Commonwealth and the United Nations, told reporters earlier this week that Myanmar's agreement to the council visit and a previous visit by the UN special envoy for sexual violence in conflict “demonstrates the glimmer of hope in what has been a very dark chapter in human history in that part of the region.”
He stressed the importance of direct engagement, which “sends a very strong signal to those in Myanmar, both the civilian but more importantly military authorities who have been responsible largely for what we've seen, which has been ethnic cleansing and nothing short of that.”