In what marks the first high-level visit from Bangladesh after the Sheikh Hasina government was re-elected for a third consecutive term, the country’s foreign minister AK Abdul Momen met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday and sought India’s support yet again for the early repatriation of Rohingya refugees from his country to Myanmar.
The renewed call for Indian support on the Rohingya issue—New Delhi too wants their early repatriation—comes as Bangladesh grapples with a fresh influx of refugees from the restive Rakhine province of Myanmar. It prompted Dhaka to summon Myanmar’s ambassador to Bangladesh earlier this week to lodge a protest over the fresh arrivals. The new bunch of refugees comprises either Buddhists who are the ethnic majority in Rakhine and in conflict with the Myanmar army or belong to other tribal groups, according to newspaper reports from Dhaka.
It’s noteworthy that while the statement issued the Bangladeshi High Commission in New Delhi said that Dr Momen raised the Rohingya issue with the PM, the statement from the Prime Minister’s Office here made no mention of it, just saying Dr Momen briefed PM Modi “on recent developments in the bilateral relationship”.
It also said that PM Modi noted the fact that “India-Bangladesh relations have been on an upward trajectory in the last few years” and “reaffirmed India’s commitment to work with Bangladesh to build on this momentum during the new term of office of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.”
The Bangladeshi mission, on the other hand, said that PM Modi “reiterated that India is always with Bangladesh and assured of India’s cooperation in this regard.” With an anxious Bangladesh keen on pressing for Rohingya repatriation, the matter came up for discussion when the visiting foreign minister called on former PM Manmohan Singh.
The High Commission statement said that the former PM “noted that early repatriation of Rohingya is a priority and assured that they will be supporting the government of India in any initiative to expedite repatriation of Rohingyas to Rakhine State.”
The Teesta waters treaty which Bangladesh has been seeking for long also came in for oblique mention with the statement saying that the former PM “hoped that both countries would be able to resolve the remaining outstanding issues between the two countries including the Teesta water-sharing soon.”
India has been backing Bangladesh on the need to repatriate the nearly 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims who are currently living in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Not only has India provided four tranches of relief material for the refugees living in the camps but it has also undertaken the construction of houses in Myanmar for the returning refugees. New Delhi is well aware that the prolonged stay of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh could pose a problem for India too.
So far, Bangladesh has been unable to send any of the refugees home. It’s attempts to repatriate the first batch in November last year met with resistance from the refugees as they simply refused to board the vehicles that were to take them back home.