Bangladesh has rebuffed the World Bank’s proposed framework on refugee policy as it does not believe it applies to Myanmar’s forcibly displaced Rohingya Muslims who are currently taking refuge in the country, according to Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen.
The global lender’s Dhaka office sought the government’s opinions on the matter but the government ‘totally rejected’ the framework as it does not consider the Rohingya to be ‘refugees’, the foreign minister said on Monday.
“The Rohingya people we have given shelter to are not refugees by our definition. They are an oppressed and displaced people, whom we have given temporary shelter.”
“Our priority is to get them back to their homeland. Our neighbour Myanmar has also said it will take them back. Although it’s been four years, they (Myanmar) have never said they won’t take them. So, these people are here temporarily. They are not refugees.”
The World Bank has prepared a document on refugee management in 16 countries, entitled ‘Refugee Policy Review Framework’, which advocates for the integration of refugees into the host country.
It also calls for the provision of various legal rights and privileges to refugees, including birth and death registration, right to work, freedom of movement, land ownership and access to education and employment, according to Momen.
Bangladesh is harbouring more than 1 million Rohingya Muslims who have fled decades of persecution in Myanmar and a brutal military crackdown in 2017 that triggered the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world.
Myanmar signed an agreement with Bangladesh for the repatriation of its displaced nationals, but the process to send them back fell flat twice in 2019, as the Rohingya refugees refused to return.
They pointed to a lack of safe, dignified and sustainable environment for their return to violence-ravaged Rakhine State, while the government of the country continued denying the Rohingya citizenship rights.
Momen said the World Bank would provide funds to support the needs of the Rohingya if Bangladesh implements its refugee programme.
But Bangladesh and the lender are ‘not at all’ on the same page when it comes to the integration of the Rohingya into the local society, said Momen.
“The World Bank says they (Rohingya) need to be integrated into the society to have a better future. We say they must return to their own country for a better future. That should be the only issue which should be worked on.”
The foreign minister continued: “The programme they have undertaken is a long-term one. You know that international organisations and other foreign governments are undertaking long-term programmes for the Rohingya, which we are not in favour of. We think it’s a temporary issue which requires a temporary programme.”
“We have given our views. We don’t accept the proposal. There will be some adjustments. But they will certainly put us under a lot of pressure. We have stated outright that these policies do not apply to the displaced Rohingya. ”
Asked about the type of pressure that could be exerted on the country, Momen said, “They won’t give us money easily. It’s not like we even get a penny from them. We don’t see any of the money that is sent in the name of Bangladesh for the Rohingya.”
“The money is spent by international organisations like the UNHCR. Other countries also send money in the name of Bangladesh, but they allocate it for the Rohingya. These are assigned to their agencies. We are not made privy to how the agencies spend the money.”
Despite rejecting the framework, Momen said the government is working to reach an agreement with the World Bank. “We are trying to reach a consensus by excluding the provisions we don’t like.”
In response to queries about the proposed framework, the World Bank said it is a ‘global document’ that is not specific to any country.
“The World Bank is supporting the government of Bangladesh with $590 million grant financing to address the needs of the displaced Rohingya population until their safe and voluntary return to Myanmar, and to minimise the impact on the host communities,” said Mercy Tembon, the lender’s country director for Bangladesh.
“The proposed Refugee Policy Review Framework aims at evaluating the effectiveness of the World Bank’s support to refugee-hosting countries across the world in their efforts to strengthen relevant policies and institutions to best manage the situation. The review for Bangladesh summarises the existent policies, practices and implementation.”