Last week commemorated six years since over a million Rohingya women, men, and children fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar. They joined countless other Rohingyas who had already sought asylum in the nation. Despite efforts, the Myanmar government has never truly intended to repatriate the Rohingyas. In the end, it was discovered that the purported verification lists for repatriation in 2018 and 2019 were only a hoax.
The conflict between the Rohingyas and Myanmar’s Buddhist population began in the 1940s. The Rohingya Muslims of northern Myanmar’s Rakhine state fought alongside the Allied force during World War II and were promised their own nation. They got into war against the local Buddhists who were allies of the Japanese Army, ally of the German Nazi forces and several battles were fought during the period of 1942-1944, even though there was no true religious conflict. The Muslims of Rakhine state supported the British force just like Congress and Muslim League but they did not receive independence. The Rohingyas attempted to join Pakistan and break away from Burma (now Myanmar) later, when India and Pakistan were granted independence by the British.
The newly established Union government of Myanmar denied the Rohingya Muslims their right to citizenship after the country gained its independence in 1948. Later, they lost their nationality under the military administration in the 1980s. Additionally, the military began to persecute these Rohingyas in Rakhine state. In the 1980s and 1990s, this led to multiple incidents of the Rohingya influx in Bangladesh, culminating in August 2017. Hence, it has been a 76-years long struggle for independence for the people of the Rakhine State.
The military in Myanmar forced 200,000 Rohingya to migrate to Bangladesh in 1977. Few had returned home by the end of 1979, but the majority had mingled with Bangladeshi citizens and even moved to other nations. About 260,000 Rohingya people moved to Bangladesh in 1992 to avoid persecution. A portion was repatriated after a few years. On both instances, repatriation was not voluntarily chosen, secure, honorable, or sustainable.
We must never forget the atrocities committed against the Rohingya while democracy’s champion Aung San SuuKyi was in charge and shamefully defended the military operation before the Hague Court. The UN and many other international leaders have expressed sympathy, but no firm action has been taken to compel Myanmar to repatriate those displaced Rohingyas.
In the 1990s, Myanmar had benefited from the 1993 Tripartite Rohingya Repatriation Agreement’s shortcomings. The then BNP government misunderstood the deal and fell for its trap. After the 2017 mass exodus, the ‘Annan Commission’ recommended a reasonable process for Rohingya repatriation; however, the Myanmar government rejected this and insisted on adopting the 1993 Rohingya Repatriations Agreement, which was deemed to be a shoddy agreement that gave the Myanmar government complete control over the repatriation process.
After six years, the global community is still not doing enough to support the repatriation of the Rohingya. Regarding the Rohingya genocide case, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ran out of steam. Despite efforts, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) likewise failed to enact any specific accountability measures. China and India are acting deceptively by both condemning the ethnic strife in Myanmar and arming the military junta that overthrew the government in a coup in 2021, which sparked a civil war there.
Additionally, the US engages in regional power politics, primarily for economic and strategic reasons. President Biden introduced a modified version of the Burma Unified through Rigorous Military Accountability Act (BURMA Act) on December 23, 2022, in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2023. Many interested parties in Myanmar and around the world applauded the BURMA Act’s inclusion in the NDAA 2023 on the grounds that it would increase American pressure on the State Administrative Council (SAC), Myanmar’s military junta, and increase aid to the country’s citizens. However, a deeper look at the BURMA Act’s provisions reveals that it will only help the US to supply weapons to the anti-military forces of Myanmar, which will drastically risk the security of Bangladesh while the economic rival of the US, China is in support of the Myanmar government.
Myanmar has been acting in an uncivilized way to Bangladesh by pushing so many Rohingyas for decades. The attitude of Myanmar to Bangladesh could have been very different if the Myanmar-India-Bangladesh gas pipeline agreement were finalized in 2005 by the then BNP-Jamaat alliance government. But Bangladesh neither took gas from Myanmar nor let the pipeline project realize. If that happened, Bangladesh could have a strong diplomatic position over Myanmar. It was a mistake on our part as Myanmar proceeded with a Myanmar-China gas pipeline project and hence, China and India are in support of Myanmar despite having a friendly relationship with Bangladesh.
Moreover, we have made different mistakes over the decades while dealing with Myanmar. 1993 Tripartite Rohingya Repatriation Agreement was a mistake by the then BNP government. Now, getting into a bilateral agreement with Myanmar about the Rohingya repatriation is another grave mistake. The refugee crisis is a concern of the world and UNHCR must take the lead in any agreement regarding the refugees.
We often see, the law enforcers of Bangladesh are arresting the leaders or activists of rebel groups from Myanmar from the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh. It is not our responsibility anymore to help the Myanmar military junta government in settling their own issues. Our law enforcers should only focus on containing any illegal drug trades, anti-social activities or terrorism from the Rohingya refugees for the sake of the welfare of Bangladesh only.
Many of our experts opined that, if a democratic government was in power in Myanmar, then the repatriation process could have seen light. It is unfortunate that, they forget the fact that, the recent mass exodus in Myanmar took place when a non-military government under the leadership of Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San SuuKyi was in power. Myanmar actually never had the intent to repatriate the Rohingyas and everyone must remember that fact.
The world must acknowledge first the act of ethnic cleansing in 2017 by the Myanmar army as an act of genocide. It must be noted clearly by the UN. It is unfortunate that the 1971 genocide in Bangladesh as well as the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar is yet to get recognition though several other much lower scale instances were recognized as genocides. Only if the oppression over the Rohingyas is recognized as ‘genocide’, then the world will create adequate pressure on the Myanmar government as well as will provide sanctions to repatriate the Rohingyas with their full rights. If the world cannot agree on such a basic thing with so many proofs, then the fate of the Rohingya refugees will never change and this huge group of people will eventually get engaged in different anti-social and terrorist activities.
We hope the world leaders will agree on the ‘genocide’ in Myanmar in 2017 and will come forward to create substantial pressure on the Myanmar government to repatriate the Rohingya refugees with their full citizenship rights. For this cause, the leaders need to forget their own interests and must act only for humanity to help the Rohingyas and the Bangladeshi people.