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International relations

Date of Rohingya repatriation unclear after ASEAN ministerial meeting

Migrant crisis still on Southeast Asian body's agenda

Foreign ministers from ASEAN member states met in Chiang Mai, Thailand on Jan. 17 and 18. (Photo by Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat)

CHIANG MAI, Thailand -- The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is continuing with its role of helping tackle the Rohingya refugee crisis after the issue was raised at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting -- the first such gathering since Thailand took the chair of the body this year.

However, it is still unclear how the long-delayed issue of repatriating more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled to Bangladesh following persecution in Myanmar's Rakhine State will be solved, as a plan to send the body's "Needs and Assessment Team" to Rakhine has been postponed indefinitely.

After the Rohingya issue was raised at the ASEAN Summit Meeting in Singapore in November 2018, the ASEAN Secretary-General visited Myanmar between Dec. 16 and 18 to facilitate ASEAN's role in helping tackle the problem and to ensure close coordination regarding the Needs and Assessment Team's mission to Rakhine.

However, the deployment of the team, which had been planned for Jan. 12 to 26, has been delayed indefinitely as the situation in Rakhine State is not yet stable.

Don Pramudwinai, the Thai foreign minister who chaired the meeting, said that work could only commence when there was peace and stability in the area.

He said that although there was no definite time frame on the repatriation plan, there was a number of projects initiated by each ASEAN member country to help people in Rakhine State.

"ASEAN countries have their own bilateral efforts as well," Don said. "We have a number of projects in Rakhine State preparing for the returnees and also for the benefit of the indigenous [people of] Rakhine."

Despite the lack of clarity on the repatriation of the Rohingya, Don said ASEAN had endorsed the sending of representatives of the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre) to Rakhine State.

"The AHA center will help the Myanmar government with its repatriation process and we hope that it will take place as soon as possible," Don said.

Plans by other individual ASEAN member countries to assist and benefit indigenous people in Rakhine State in the longer term relate to schools, rice mills and other agricultural projects.

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