"This is a reaffirmation of Indonesia's commitment made by President Joko Widodo at the 35th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok, last November, to continue to support Myanmar in resolving the Rakhine State issue," Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said at the signing of the MoU on the awarding of grants from Indonesia goes to the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta on Friday.
The funds were handed over by Indonesia to the ASEAN Secretariat, which helped coordinate the return of Myanmar refugees through the implementation of the preliminary need assessment (PNA) recommendations compiled by the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance (AHA Center) with the Emergency Response and Assessment Team of ASEAN (ERAT).
In March 2019, teams from the ASEAN-ERAT and AHA Centers visited Rakhine State to conduct an initial assessment and readiness of Myanmar to deal with the return of Rohingya refugees.
The recommendations produced by the team included three main elements, namely capacity building at the reception center and refugee transit point; strengthening information dissemination; and providing support for the provision of basic services such as education, health, and clean water.
"Disseminating this information is important to build the trust of the refugees at Cox’s Bazar regarding the preparation of repatriation which must be done voluntarily, safely and with dignity," Foreign Minister Retno said.
The ASEAN Secretariat team has visited Cox’s Bazar twice, on 27-29 July 2019 then on 17-20 December 2019. The second visit focused on information dissemination efforts to increase the trust of refugees to return to Myanmar.
According to Myanmar Permanent Representative to ASEAN U Min Lwin, the grant from Indonesia is the first contribution made by ASEAN member countries through the ASEAN Secretariat.
The contribution is also expected to strengthen the role of the ad hoc team formed by the ASEAN Secretariat to monitor the implementation of PNA recommendations.
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"I hope that with this grant the PNA recommendation can be carried out very well and an ad hoc team can be immediately formed to assist the dignified return and prepare their place to live in Rakhine State," Lwin said.
Reuters reported, more than 730,000 Rohingyas fled Myanmar to Bangladesh in 2017 to avoid a military-led crackdown, and UN investigators said it was carried out with "genocidal intentions", and included mass killings and rapes.
Myanmar denies widespread atrocity, calling it a response to attacks by Rohingya guerrillas.
Although repatriation efforts have been tried twice, recently in August 2019, in fact no Rohingya refugees had returned voluntarily to Rakhine.
"So the deadline (for repatriation) may not be really implemented, because it is voluntary. The refugees must be absolutely sure about safety and facilities when they return, "Director General of ASEAN Cooperation Jose Tavares said.
At present, around 600,000 Rohingya are still in Myanmar, where the majority of the population is Buddhist. They are confined in camps and villages in the west Rakhine where they cannot travel freely or access health and education services.
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