Late Wednesday, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders pledged to assist with the repatriation of Rohingya Muslims to the western state of Rakhine in Myanmar, according to an official statement released at the group's summit being hosted in Singapore.
Amid an appearance by Myanmar's embattled de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a request was made asking for the aid of the 10 member countries to "dispatch a needs-assessment team to identify possible areas of cooperation in Rakhine State to facilitate the repatriation process," according to the release, which was issued following a meeting at the 33rd staging of the summit.
The humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State was one of the main topics discussed at Tuesday's session of the ASEAN summit. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad criticized the Myanmar leader for defending the alleged oppression and persecution of the Rohingya.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Myanmar's de facto leader held a brief meeting on the sidelines of the summit Wednesday. The “violence and persecution by military and vigilantes” that resulted in the exodus of 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh was “without excuse,” Pence reportedly stated to Aung San Suu Kyi.
The Myanmar leader responded that people must “learn to understand each other better.”
“We can say that we understand our country better than any other country does. And I'm sure you will say the same of yours, that you understand your own country better than anybody else does,” Aung San Suu Kyi said. “We welcome all friends to help us and support us in everything that we are doing to make our country a safer and more prosperous place for everybody concerned.”
Meanwhile, ex-member of parliament for the Union Solidarity Development Party, U Shwe Maung — an exiled Rohingya — told The National that “this so-called repatriation is not genuine. [Myanmar is] still clearly denying fundamental rights of Rohingyas. We learned lessons from 1978 and 1994 repatriations. I think this is to puncture international pressure and detour the UN’s path to finding a sustainable solution for Rohingyas.”
In the ASEAN release, the leaders rallied to declare that they "stand ready to support Myanmar in its repatriation process" as well as "facilitating the voluntary return of displaced persons to Myanmar in a safe, secure and dignified way."
According to a Kyodo report, Myanmar's neighbor Bangladesh — and home to a slew of Rohingya Muslims who fled the country — intended to begin the process of repatriation Thursday, in accordance with an agreement the two countries made late last month.
Over 500,000 Rohingya — a Muslim minority group in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar — who sought refuge in Bangladesh between 2016 and 2017, in several attempts to leave attacks which resulted in hundreds of villages being razed.