Rohingya repatriation: World must not take eyes off the ball

Published : Tuesday, 12 October, 2021 at 12:00 AM

The Rohingya crisis continues to bear the burden of violations of human rights in Myanmar. Decades of the military rule with unconcealed disrespect for human rights and grievances of ethnic minorities. Today, the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice are investigating these horrific attacks as alleged genocide or ethnic cleansing. Bangladesh, despite limited resources, has taken in more than 800,000 Rohingya refugees and provided them with food and shelter. These Rohingya refugees have further increased in numbers as many children were born in last four years in those camps.

The numerous challenges associated with the temporary hosting of victimized Rohingyas from Myanmar have forced the Bangladesh government to plan the relocation of 100,000 Rohingyas to Bhasan Char. Nearly 20,000 Rohingyas have moved to Bhasan Char since December last year. Around 80,000 Rohingyas will be relocated to Bhasan Char from Cox’s Bazar camps within the next three months. The UN was vocal against relocating Rohingyas, but now joined forces with the government of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh and the United Nations (UN) signed a formal document Saturday, ending a long wait for a much-sought UN engagement at Bhasan Char on the humanitarian front to support the Rohingyas there. The signing of the MoU demonstrates the UN’s support to the government’s massive investment there to ensure better living for the Rohingyas. The UN response will build upon and complement the humanitarian assistance, so far provided by Bangladeshi NGOs on the island.

Before signing the MoU, the UN held discussions with the Rohingya community in Cox’s Bazar as well as those already on the island to better understand their needs and views. These discussions as well as those with the government counterparts and Bangladeshi NGOs working on the island are expected to continue on a regular basis. The agreement relating to Bhasan Char allows for close cooperation between the government and the UN covering the key areas of protection, education, training, livelihoods and health, which will help support the refugees to lead decent lives on the island and better prepare them for sustainable return to Myanmar in the future.

The UN encouraged the international community to increase its generous support to the humanitarian response in Bangladesh recognizing that the Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Response in Cox’s Bazar is currently less than half-funded for this year. This support should continue until refugees are able to return to Myanmar in a safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable manner. But unfortunately, the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees is still a distant goal as strong efforts are yet to be seen from the global community including the UN in this regard.

To address the Rohingya crisis, the global community first and foremost need to recognize that, its root causes stay in Myanmar. Improving the situation of the Rohingya people is only possible through creating an environment in Myanmar by establishing respect for human rights and the rule of law and eliminating discriminatory laws and uprooting discriminatory attitudes. Today, in the midst of the crisis in Myanmar, this seems like extremely difficult.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina decided to let the 8,00,000 Rohingya refugees take temporary shelter in overcrowded Bangladesh since August 25, 2017, arranged food for them and also raised awareness around the globe about the plight of the Rohingya people and need for its early solution. The successive Myanmar governments have denied the citizenship of Rohingyas and other rights in their own country and instead led a vicious campaign to drive them out of the country by branding them as illegal Bengali migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.

The prime minister announced on several instances on global platforms including multiple UNGAs that the Rohingyas will have to return to their own country and urged the world leaders to arrange their repatriation as soon as possible. As a result, pressure started building on Myanmar government to take back the Rohingya refugees, give them full citizenship and residency and other rights in Myanmar as per what is widely known as “Annan Commission” recommendations.

The commission headed by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was formed according to the Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi’s wish to find a permanent solution to her country’s ethnic problems, especially of the Muslim Rohingyas. But Myanmar authorities changed tone soon after the commission was set up as it wanted full access by the UNHCR, human rights and aid agencies to determine the extent of abuse done on the Rohingyas and mitigate their sufferings. This led to a stalemate in the UN’s efforts to resettle the Rohingyas who left Myanmar in 1992 but mostly returned under supervision of the UNHCR, only to flee back in the following years.

The UN initially wanted the refugees to be repatriated under recommendations of the Annan Commission which provided for joint review or verification of the refugees by Bangladesh, Myanmar and UNHCR to ascertain their nationality and list them for returning home. It also wanted the children be spared from scrutiny if their parents have already completed the process and that the returnees be given back their land and allowed to build homes there. It also recommended providing full citizenship to the returned Rohingyas with all the facilities along with freedom of movement along with forming an independent commission to make the verification process easier.

Though the recommendations of the Annan Commission were perfect for the safe repatriation of the Rohingya refugees, that did not see light till now. Though the global leaders provided strong speeches in favour of the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees on several occasions, not a singly Rohingya was repatriated from those who entered Bangladesh in 2017 even after four years. The failure to create pressure on Myanmar by the global community in this regard has turned into a complete failure of the repatriation process till now. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recently said international pressure on Myanmar would continue for a permanent solution to the protracted Rohingya crisis as the issue was widely discussed in the 76th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session.

PM Hasina also said the Rohingyas, currently staying at different refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, are being involved in drug smuggling which is alarming. Moreover, four to six groups are actively working among the Rohingya refugees, which can escalate the terrorist activities. These groups are working from the hilly areas surrounding the Rohingya refugee camps. These groups may also operate at Bhasan Char after the whole 100,000 refugees shift.

Additionally, we have seen groups of Rohingya refugee fleeing to different parts of Bangladesh. As our culture, language and many other things are very different and most importantly, they do not own our country, they can get engaged in various terrorist activities and that will deter the law and order situation in Bangladesh in the future. With no education and scars of brutality on them, the Rohingya refugees stay vulnerable to antisocial activities.

It is extremely important that the repatriation efforts for these Rohingya refugees find heavy pace soon. UN and other international agencies supporting the Bangladesh government in aiding Rohingya refugees is not a solution to return humanitarian rights to this unfortunate group. We cannot allow any further delay in the process of repatriation but the autocratic military government in Myanmar has made that a more difficult process.

We hope the global community including UN focuses on the real problem and keeping aside all interests, they act strongly to complete the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees at earliest. For that, creating substantial pressure on Myanmar with measures like sanction is required urgently. Many strong countries imposed sanctions on other countries for selfish interests but unfortunately none is coming forward to do so for humanitarian reasons involving the Rohingya refugees. Moreover, everyone is trying to serve their own interests by keeping ties with Myanmar, which has committed one of the most barbaric acts of the history. This shows what a cruel world we are living in today.

If only the global community steps in with full force, the rights of these Rohingya refugees can be returned. We hope they will be return to their own soil with full rights soon. That day, humanity will truly prevail.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and
Chief Patron, Bangabandhu
Shishu Kishore Mela

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