India to Build Pre-Fabricated Houses for Rohingya Refugees Returning to Myanmar

This was agreed upon as part of a new memorandum of understanding signed during foreign secretary S. Jaishankar's visit to Myanmar on Wednesday.

New Delhi: India will be building pre-fabricated homes for Rohingya refugees who fled Rakhine State and may return under the bilateral framework signed between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

This was agreed upon as part of a new memorandum of understanding signed during foreign secretary S. Jaishankar’s visit to Myanmar on Wednesday.

The foreign secretary’s visit was scheduled as a “follow-up” to decisions taken during Prime Ministiter Narendra Modi’s sojourn to Myanmar.

Not surprisingly, the Rohingya issue also cropped up, though as per norm, the official Indian communique did not use the term and referred to it as “matters pertaining to Rakhine State”.

The MoU was signed between Jaishankar and Myanmar’s deputy minister for social welfare, relief and resettlement, U Soe Aung.

According to the Ministry of External Affairs press release, the aim of the pact would be to “help the Government of Myanmar achieve its objective of restoration of normalcy in Rakhine State and enable the return of displaced person”.

“Under this MoU, Government of India proposes to take up, among others, a project to build prefabricated housing in Rakhine State so as to meet the immediate needs of returning people,” said the press release.

More than 6,55,000 Rohingyas have fled Rakhine State following military operations after an attack by Rohingya militants on security checkposts on August 25. Myanmar and Bangladesh have signed a bilateral agreement on repatriation of Rohingya refugees, with a joint working group established on Tuesday.

This would the second major social project to be undertaken by India in the restive Rakhine State. After the 2012 riots, India had announced $1 million in aid for reconstruction of schools in both Muslim and Buddhist areas of Rakhine State.

During his visit, Jaishankar also called on the State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and commander-in-chief of the Myanmar Defence Services, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. “All matters relating to security, bilateral cooperation as well as the situation in Northern Rakhine State were discussed,” said the press release.

The top Indian diplomat’s visit takes place in the backdrop of Myanmar and Bangladesh working to implement the November 23 agreement on repatriation. On Tuesday, both sides formed a 30-member joint working group which will supervise the “safe and voluntary” return, resettlement and reintegration process of the refugees.

Incidentally, it was Modi’s public statement during his Myanmar visit in September – in the early days of the massive exodus – which had led Dhaka to protest.

India had always supported Myanmar in the international fora and Modi had only blamed “extremist violence” for the loss of lives in Rakhine in August.

With Bangladesh public opinion inflamed over the violence against the Rohingya and the lack of India’s support, New Delhi had to undertake some damage control which included an additional statement acknowledging the “outflow of refugees in the region” for the first time.

There were more incremental changes in India’s public position on the regional crisis. India sent relief assistance for the refugee camps at Cox’s Bazar under “Operation Insaniyaat”.

Even as there was rare criticism of China in Dhaka, the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi announced in November that both Bangladesh and Myanmar had agreed to a Chinese “three-phase solution” in November.

A few days later, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed the agreement. Indian official sources disputed the fact that there had been any Chinese mediation which led to the agreement, asserting that both Dhaka and Nyay Pyi Daw had insisted on direct bilateral talks.

A day before Jaishankar’s meetings in Myanmar, China’s special envoy for Asian affairs called on Suu Kyi and discussed “matters related to bilateral relations and cooperation, peace process and the situation in Rakhine State”. Suu Kyi, who faced the brunt of Western criticism over the handling of the Rohingya crisis, visited Beijing in November to attend a conference for international political parties hosted by the Chinese communist party.

India’s regional balancing has had to be delicate – since any perceived tilt towards Bangladesh could give more of an opening to China, which has given full support to the internationally-isolated Myanmar government. India has an additional disadvantage vis-à-vis China in Myanmar – that New Delhi is not as integral to the domestic peace process, unlike Beijing.

Earlier this month, India abstained on a resolution in the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council backed by Bangladesh which condemned the human rights violations against the Rohingya community and asked the UNHRC chief to keep reporting on the ground situation.

India did not give any public explanation for its vote, but it was among only nine countries that abstained on the resolution which was approved by 33 UNHRC member countries.

Sources told The Wire that India had informed Bangladesh ahead of the vote about its inclination – with its arguments backed by its traditional positions on single-party resolution. New Delhi had also expressed hesitation in supporting a resolution backed by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, as per sources. India’s choice became more palatable as China was among the only three countries which voted ‘no’ on the resolution.

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