Rohingya repatriation: A liability of the global community
More than three years have passed, over 1 million Rohingya refugees sheltered by Bangladesh could not return to their homes. Recently a new conflict has flared between Myanmar’s security forces and the Arakan Army, which has negatively impacted civilians throughout the country’s central and northern Rakhine state, including the members of the minority Rohingya community. Thousands of Rohingyas are still fleeing the Rakhine state of Myanmar on the face of brutal attacks by the security forces aided by the locals. Another huge influx is underway and only international justice and strong pressure from the international community can bring changes to the fate of these millions of Rohingyas and that requires immediate steps to avoid further atrocities.
Reportedly, suspicious movement of the Myanmar troops on fishing trawlers were traced out since Sep 11 and the local residents of Bangladesh got concerned after noticing the presence of the soldiers on the other side of the border.Bangladesh has summoned the Myanmar envoy amid military build-up at the other side of the border in the Rakhine State, indicating further conflicts. Any further conflict at the border may trigger another exodus of Rohingya Muslims creating huge pressure for Bangladesh as we are not in a condition to provide shelter to any more Rohingya refugees.
During the last part of August 2017, Myanmar military poured into the Rakhine State and launched a vicious operation against the Rohingya people. Over the course of a few weeks, thousands of women, men and children were killed, mutilated and raped, whole villages were burned to the ground and hundreds of thousands fled into neighboring Bangladesh.Bangladesh, enlightened by the humanitarian leadership of Prime minister Sheikh Hasina, has generously welcomed and hosted people who fled for their lives, but an overcrowded refugee camp is no place for a life of dignity. A whole generation of Rohingya children is growing up in deplorable conditions, with little access to education and no hope for the future.
Though many countries and communities from around the world raised their concern from the very beginning, unfortunately the global community could not put any substantial pressure on Myanmar. On several occasions, Myanmar army officials and their de-facto leader Noble peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi arrogantly rejected as well as defended the brutality conducted at the Rakhine state despite having clear evidences of genocides.
The Gambia has taken a laudable step towards ending impunity for those committing atrocities in Myanmar. Recently, Canada and the Kingdom of the Netherlands have expressed their joint intention on Sep 2 to intervene in the matter of The Gambia vs. Myanmar, a litigious case brought by The Gambia against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) alleging violations of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention).
The Genocide Convention embodies the solemn pledge to prevent the crime of genocide and hold those responsible to account.As part of this intervention, Canada and the Kingdom of the Netherlands will assist with the complex legal issues that are expected to arise and will pay special attention to crimes related to sexual and gender-based violence, including rape. But this case is expected to continue for a long time which the Rohingya refugees keep losing their fate and Rohingya Muslims still living at the Rakhine keep losing even their lives.
The agenda of repatriation of the million Rohingyas are on the table for a long time but till now not a single Rohingya were repatriated. It is high time that the Myanmar authorities demonstrate real commitment to the process of returns for displaced Rohingya and to take necessary measures to address the root causes that led to the crisis, including amending the 1982 Citizenship Law to restore their nationality and ensuring accountability for crimes committed against them.
Myanmar is heading towards the next general elections, scheduled for November, offering the chance to restore political rights to the Rohingya, who were able to participate in all votes until 2010. However, they were excluded from the 2015 vote. At least four Rohingya politicians who sought to stand in the upcoming vote have had their applications rejected.
The Rohingyas have become a threat to the security, socioeconomic conditions and environment of Bangladesh. The coastal environment was severely harmed due to setting up of refugee camps cutting millions of trees. Moreover, the waste from this huge population is also deteriorating the surrounding areas. The Rohingya refugees are getting involved in many illegal activities as they have no work. Mostly they are being involved in illegal drugs trade. Bangladesh was already entangled with the challenges of huge spread of ‘Yaba’, a drug produced especially in Myanmar, throughout the country. Now, these Rohingya refugees are making the scenario more critical.
The Rohingya refugees do not want to leave the camps set at coastal areas as they can easily conduct illegal businesses from there by established connections in Myanmar. The Bangladeshi government has set up a great facility at ‘Bhashan Char’ for 1 lac Rohingya refugees but they are not really intending to shift there. A team of Rohingya refugees visited that facility and traced out several problems, which seemed like an intention of refusal to shifting. Moreover, risk of fundamentalism is very high with this traumatized group of Rohingya people, which can be a major concern for Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has sought support from the global leaders and the UN on several occasions for creating pressure on Myanmar to take back the forcefully displaced Rohigyas ensuring their rights. Recently, The USA has assured Bangladesh that it will continue its support to bringing about a peaceful resolution to the prolonged Rohingya crisis. The assurance came during a phone call by US Defence Secretary Mark Esper to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Friday.
Previously, USA has called for justice for the Rohingya victims of the atrocities and accountability for the perpetrators of the crimes as they remained concerned over the killing of members of local communities and displacement of thousands.
Along with US, many other countries like; Turkey, Germany, Canada, France, Norway, India and many others including the UN assured Bangladesh of their support towards the peaceful repatriation of the Rohingyas by creating pressure on Myanmar. But nothing actually worked out. Now, considering all the facts and the economic turmoil during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are expecting strong role from the UN in quick repatriation of the Rohingya refugees. They must force Myanmar to take their people back with dignity as it is not possible to host such a large and increasing population for long. The global leaders from their own ends must strengthen this drive. It is not a matter of self interest or financial consideration; it is a matter of saving humanity.
Unfortunately, both India and China, two of the major development and economic partner of Bangladesh, did not take any mentionable measure to solve the Rohingya crisis. China had the opportunity to support the cause at the UN General Assembly but that did not happen. India, who shares the longest of their border with Bangladesh also remained silent with this issue. But we can expect them to be proactive in solving this issue as that will ensure regional stability as well as will serve humanity.
This Rohingya issue along with many burning issues all around the world might create provocation for Bangladesh. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman once said that, we are in favor of peace but we are always by the side of the oppressed ones. His daughter PM Sheikh Hasina also followed that principle and stood strongly beside these displaced Rohingya refugees. From several angles, many entities tried to provoke Bangladesh in taking hostile measures to solve this crisis but she did not fall for those propositions honoring the regional peace. But Bangladesh will definitely protect its sovereignty at any cost. Bangladesh must watch every footsteps carefully.
We hope, with a shifting global political and economical scenario, the government under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will be able to promote this crisis at diplomatic forums with utmost importance. If the agenda is prioritized and effectively campaigned, then we might soon receive a positive result, which may return the lives to a million Rohingya refugees.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and
Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Centre (DRC)