Union Minister for International Cooperation U Ko Ko Hlaing in his capacity as Vice-Chairman 1 of the Rakhine State Stability, Peace and Development Work Coordination Committee, accompanied by Rakhine State Chief Minister U Htein Lin, led a diplomatic team comprising ambassadors and diplomats of ASEAN countries, China, India and Bangladesh embassies and representatives of the AHA Centre to observe the preparations made for the repatriation of displaced persons from Rakhine State, relocation of IDP camps, issuance of NVC (National Verification Card) and vocational training schools in Rakhine State.
The words of the Union minister, the Rakhine State chief minister and departmental officials regarding the preparations for the repatriation of the displaced persons and relocation of IDP camps are as follows: -
U Ko Ko Hlaing (Union Minister, Ministry of International Cooperation)
We have arranged to repatriate the displaced persons from the Bangladesh side under a pilot project. In doing so, we invited the diplomatic missions of ASEAN countries, neighbouring countries and the Executive Director of the AHA Centre and party to show how the Myanmar government is preparing to accept the prospective returnees. First, we observed the Ngakhuya reception centre and the Hlaphoekhaung camp which is a temporary transit camp for displaced persons after they have been checked at the reception centres.
We will place them at the transit camp for a short period and relocate them to the designated villages. I have been to Rakhine State three times, including this trip. I found progress in work each time. The ruined wards and shelters have been dismantled and rebuilt. The Assemble Board Houses (ABH) donated by the Government of China have been set up at proper locations in the transit camp.
It also provides water and electricity. I feel satisfied with the current situation. Almost everything has been renovated. Although the families will have to stay here just for some time, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement will provide child-friendly places for kids, and vocational training for women, as well as kitchen utensils and clothing.
The diplomats who participated in this tour have not ever been here and this is their very first experience. They wanted to know what is going on here because foreign media outlets always express the repatriation issue from a negative perspective. Some are saying that the Myanmar government does not want to accept the displaced people and there is no cooperation from the Myanmar side. On the contrary, Myanmar is ready to receive the returnees. It has been ready for a long time, and extensive maintenance works for the infrastructure have to be conducted as no returnees have returned yet. The diplomats clearly witness these situations.
These processes for repatriation are not being carried out only by our ministry. The working committees under the Rakhine State Stability, Peace and Development Work Coordination Committee are coordinating and undertaking the preparatory works. The preparatory works are making progress through the collective efforts of ministries concerned under the respective working committees. The Rakhine State government and regional administrators have also exerted their best efforts on these processes. I thank all for their relentless efforts. We will implement the necessary works as quickly as possible and make all efforts to repatriate the displaced persons under the bilateral agreements.
Upon their arrival, we will provide them with vocational training to support their livelihoods to improve their socioeconomic status. At the same time, the Rakhine State Stability, Peace and Development Work Coordination Committee will ensure proportionate and inclusive development in Rakhine State by equally prioritizing the development of local ethnic communities in Rakhine State.
Our main aim is to make every effort for the peace, stability and development of Rakhine State.
U Htein Lin (Rakhine State Chief Minister)
The preparatory works for the repatriation processes by the Rakhine State government are achieving more progress than before. Regarding the current pilot project, it is being carried out under the guidance of the Union level and our Rakhine state government is assisting with the necessary things.
As priorities, we have done arrangements including roads, buildings, electricity, water and accommodation so that the reception processes will be in order. After they (the displaced persons) have been checked and received, they will be temporarily placed in the transit camp. Then, we will designate the villages for them to relocate and resettle. We have built housing in some villages for them to live in a proper standard of living. We have also prepared the necessary basic infrastructure in the designated 15 villages. We also have plans to provide other required infrastructure when the returnees settle in those villages.
We are working not only for stability and the rule of law in Rakhine State but also for the development of the region. In doing so, peace and tranquillity are indeed necessary for development, but development can also bring peace and tranquillity. Following the guidance of the Head of State, we are making efforts to develop the MSMEs based on agriculture and livestock which will bring benefits to our region and the country as our region is endowed with good water and land resources.
The government also grants loans for socioeconomic development from the State Economic Promotion Fund. We are making arrangements to use the loans
effectively. The Rakhine State government, social organizations and local ethnic people are cooperating and coordinating to fulfil the needs of our region in accordance with the instructions of the Union level.
Mr Mongkol Visitstump (Thai Ambassador to Myanmar)
It is my first visit to Myanmar. I arrived in Myanmar four months ago. With the generosity of Myanmar, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar organized a diplomatic tour this time. It helps open our eyes. And we have an opportunity to hear by our own ears. It is an excellent preparation by the Myanmar government for the returnees, and IDPs, so I wish Myanmar and Bangladesh, both countries can consult to move forward on preparations to materialize. The facilities were built some time; two or three years already and still can serve the returnees.
For Thailand, we have development projects here in Rakhine State. For example, the building of rice mills, capacity building on fish culture and agriculture technology by using advanced equipment. We have donated 16 tractors for machinery and even six motorcycles for the centre to use. Now we are in preparation for sending in technicians to install the rice mill in Maungtaw and for the construction of fish ponds. We can teach how to cultivate fish.
Thailand will support the joint efforts of the Myanmar and Bangladesh governments. I appreciate the Myanmar government’s efforts on buildings, facilities and training, even taking care of villagers here (Ngakhuya village) is excellent.
U Thein Htay Oo (Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Border Affairs)
Arrangements for repatriations were made in 2018-2019. At that time, around 2,000 or 3,000 people were planning to return but they didn’t for various reasons. So, I want them (the displaced persons) to know that the two countries have negotiated and, accordingly, necessary arrangements have been made for repatriation. In the previous attempts, we informed them (the displaced persons) in advance that we would accept them in accordance with the five criteria for eligibility to return and that they could return safely. However, they did not return as they were pressured and controlled not to return.
Therefore, the international community thought that we did not want to receive them. We thus invited diplomats to show our preparations which have cost the government more than five billion kyats.
If they return under the pilot project, we will receive and check them at Taungpyo Letwae and Ngakhuya reception centres and then place them at the Hlaphoekhaung transit centre temporarily.
We have arranged land plots in 15 villages just north of Maungtaw. There are also farmlands at the designed relocation sites and we have arrangements to facilitate their short and long-term livelihoods. I want them to know about our arrangements. However, those who do not want to return barred those who wish to return. We did not force those people out of the country but they left on their own decisions. Yet, foreign countries have reproached our country.
I want them to know about our efforts to receive them. We spent a large amount of funds on the repatriation process. The Rakhine State government, Ministry of Border Affairs and Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement will provide basic food provision to the returnees for one month. The world does not hear the ground truth of what we have done here. Therefore, we invited the diplomats to share the correct information. Under the pilot project, we will repatriate about 1,500 displaced persons. We have not received any response yet. After the pilot project, we will discuss repatriating over 5,000 people from 1,500 households in the northern part of Maungtaw.
We will accept those newborns in Bangladesh with official certificates from Bangladesh courts but their parents must have lived in our country. We plan to arrange about 750 land plots in 15 villages. If there are more returnees, we will make further plots of land and relocate them systematically. But, they must be the ones born and lived in Myanmar. We have our record of registered family households. If they match with the registered family household list and have not committed any crime, we will receive them. For their safety and security, we have police stations near the 15 villages.
I would like to reiterate that we did not force them to leave the country and we always welcome the returnees if they abide by the laws of our country.
Dr Ko Ko Naing (Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement)
This is basic sewing training opened at the vocational training school in Sittway Township. The local ethnic women and the women from the temporary IDP camps are attending the training together.
They will achieve vocational skills to sustain their livelihoods. Besides these skills, the training will support the social cohesion of communities as they work together in the workplace with the same mission. Social harmony and integration are a necessity for any community. Therefore, the training is meant not only for generating income for women but also to ensure social cohesion and integration among them. We launch this training for women and girls from different communities so that they will get acquainted with each other and could share their experiences. About 50 trainees – locals and women from IDP camps are attending the training.
U Arkar Myint (Assistant Director, General Administration Department)
We are arranging to complete the relocation of the Kyauktalone IDP camp by the end of March 2023. We will relocate a total of 375 households from that IDP camp. The houses were constructed in 2021-2022 FY. There are 396 houses in total. For the first phase, we will relocate those registered in the household lists of the IDP camp. Next, we will relocate those who cannot return to their own villages.
All people at the IDP camp are residents of Kyaukpyu Township. We built hospitals, clinics, schools, police outposts and water tanks at the resettlement site. Moreover, road access and electricity supply are already connected to their houses. The government arranges food and accommodation for the IDPs using billions of kyats from the government budget.
(This is an unofficial translation of the Myanmar version of the interviews which appeared in the daily newspapers (Kyemon-The Mirror and Myanmar Alinn Daily)
Interviewer : Hein Min Soe
Photo : HMS