Bangladesh and Myanmar have signed an agreement to repatriate the Rohingyas but there has been no apparent progress. File photo: AP
Dhaka says Rohingyas will “jeopardise regional and international security” if the 1.1 million Rohingyas are left unattended and not given the opportunity to return to their homeland in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
Bangladesh has sought a pro-active role from both the ASEAN and Thailand on the repatriation of Rohingyas.
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen discussed the issue when outgoing Thai Ambassador Arunrung Phothong Humphreys met him at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday.
Dr Momen suggested that the ASEAN countries should in a body put pressure on Myanmar so that a conducive environment is created in the Rakhine State and the Rohingyas can immediately return to their homes.
The ambassador assured to flag Dhaka’s concerns on the Rohingya issues to the Thai government as well as the ASEAN leadership and expressed hope that this problem would be resolved soon.
Foreign Minister Momen thanked Thailand for the humanitarian support extended to Rohingyas.
There have been a series of turf war at the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar claiming lives of both Rohingyas and members of the host community.
The mainly-Muslim ethnic minority has been facing state-sponsored discrimination for decades in their homeland in Myanmar where many of them are denied basic rights and forced to live in cramped camps.
Hundreds of thousands of them started fleeing to Bangladesh in late August 2017 after the Myanmar military launched a brutal offensive targeting the minority in the pretext of ‘clearance operation’.
Former Malaysian foreign minister Dr Syed Hamid Albar in August described the Rohingya crisis as a serious violation of human rights, genocide, and crime against humanity with implications at the regional level.
He said ASEAN, in which Myanmar is also a member, has not taken any meaningful step as there is a high level of tolerance and unwillingness to discuss the Rohingya crisis in the ASEAN mechanisms.
Bolstering bilateral ties
Dr Momen said that Thailand is Bangladesh’s trusted friend and partner with which Bangladesh has been enjoying a strong bilateral relationship since independence.
He noted that Thailand is an advanced economy and a development hub in the Asia Pacific region. Building physical connectivity and people-to-people contacts with that country is Bangladesh’s foreign policy priority, he said.
Both countries are fellow members of different international organisations including BIMSTEC and there are common strategic interests on a wide range of issues such as sustainable development, poverty alleviation, climate change adaptation and disaster management.
Considering the popularity of Thailand as a destination for medical tourism, Dr Momen said that it would be a win-win proposition if Thai entrepreneurs set up joint venture hospitals in Bangladesh.
The Foreign Minister thanked the ambassador for arranging special flights between Dhaka and Bangkok and for responding positively to requests for medical evacuations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He suggested that Thailand should consider investing in the Special Economic Zones in Bangladesh where state of the art facilities and one stop services (OSS) are provided.
Ambassador Humphreys informed that trade, connectivity, energy and development cooperation were key priorities of her mission in Dhaka.
She informed the Minister that a three-year development programme is in the process of implementation with funding from Thailand International Cooperation Agency (TICA).
Agro-processing, rural development, environmental protection, women empowerment and human resource development are focus areas of the proposed TICA project.
Ambassador Humphreys informed that she would advise her successor to organise senior level visits between the two countries once the COVID crisis is over.
She noted that Thailand has already a significant investment presence in Bangladesh.
The outgoing Ambassador expressed the hope that the negotiators of both countries would finalise the draft of the proposed Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the two countries would be able to sign it soon.
She thanked the Foreign Minister for the support extended to her mission during her assignment in Dhaka.
Dr Momen sought Thailand’s support on Bangladesh’s candidature for ASEAN Sectoral Dialogue Partner status.
The envoy also separately called on the State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam and Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.