Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen has written to his Myanmar counterpart, wishing them a happy New Year and hoping that the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees will begin in 2021

“The Rohingya crisis is a great challenge for us. We hope the repatriation will begin this year,” Momen told reporters on Sunday.

“You know we have been trying to begin the process for a few years now. I’ve sent New Year greetings to my Myanmar counterpart and told them that we want the repatriation process to begin,” he added.

More than 700,000 members of the Rohingya ethnic minority fled a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine in 2017 and crossed the border into Bangladesh to join another 400,000 refugees who had fled decades of persecution in the Buddhist-majority country.

Later that year, Myanmar signed an agreement with Bangladesh to take back the Rohingya. But the repatriation has not begun as the situation in Rakhine has not improved while the refugees decline to go back without citizenship rights.

Momen said in the letter that Myanmar has repeatedly promised to take back the Rohingya after verification and ensure their safety and security as per Bangladesh’s demand.

He said, “I’ve told them: ‘You have promised to create an environment conducive to the repatriation so that the refugees return voluntarily. But there has been no progress. You need political goodwill for this. We hope you will keep your words in the new year.’”

“But historically, you (Myanmar) deliver on your promises. Many Rohingya, 253,000, crossed the border in the exodus of 1978 and 1991. And you took back 230,000 in 1992 after discussions,” he said, referring to the letter.

“The number is very big this time. But we believe and hope you will take back your nationals,” Momen said in the letter.

He also reminded Myanmar about the threat the refugee crisis poses to peace and development in the region.

Momen said a resolution recently adopted by the 75th United Nations General Assembly on the human rights situation of the Rohingya and other minority groups in Myanmar has created a “new, strong mandate” on the world stage.

Nine countries have changed their stance in favour of the resolution. They are Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Palau and the Solomon Islands. They had abstained from voting in 2019.

The UNGA plenary adopted the resolution on Dec 31, 2020 by a recorded vote of 130 in favour to nine against, with 25 abstentions.

The countries that voted against the resolution are Belarus, Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Russia, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

Momen said his ministry has sent a letter explaining the Rohingya situation to all the countries that voted over the resolution.