In August 2017, the Myanmar army committed atrocities to the Rohingya people in Arakan state of Myanmar including rape, torture, burning the houses, killing. To escape from death, the Rohingya people fled to Bangladesh. The Rohingya crisis has been identified as one of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.The United Nations (UN) has defined the crisis as the ‘textbook case’ of ethnic violence.
And considering the sufferings of the Rohingya refugees, Bangladesh opened doors for them from a humanitarian ground. Bangladesh is hosting more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees, including the Rohingyas who came earlier (before August 2017) in the country. Notably, Bangladesh is providing shelter, food, medicare and other facilities/services to the Rohingyas for a long time. The local people of Cox’s Bazar also showed great sympathy to those refugees sacrificing their lands, forests and other resources. Bangladesh has made tremendous sacrifices, including the forests. Initially, the country made Rohingya camps in 6,500 acres of land. It is already three years passed. But a successful Rohingya repatriation seems a dream to many given the current contexts. In this article, I attempt to show why successful repatriation is essential, why it failed, and the role of the international community in this regard.
Why repatriation necessary?
First, Rohingyas are creating an extra burden for Bangladesh, given the socio-economic realities of the country. Notably, being one of the densely populated countries in the world with limited resources, it becomes a daunting task for Bangladesh to continue its wholehearted supports for the Rohingyas in the days to come.
Second, Rohingya refugees have clear security implications for Bangladesh and beyond. It is reported that Rohingya criminals are becoming involved in the deterioration of the law and order situation in Cox’s Bazar, which becomes a grave concern for the locals. The local people who showed wholehearted support to the Rohingyas are worried now due to the increased criminal activities by the Rohingya criminals. It is reported that there are instances of murders in the Rohingya camp. In addition, after the murder of Jubo League leader Farooq by the Rohingya criminal, there were tensions among the locals.
It is argued that the longer the refugees stay in the refugee camps, the more likely they become a threat to peace (cited in Bariagaber, 1999: 605). Thus, prolonging the Rohingya repatriation will be problematic for Bangladesh, which merits serious attention from the international community. In this context, successful repatriation of the Rohingyas becomes essential.
Third,one can also argue that there are regional and international security implications of the Rohingya crisis. The international community can also consider this factor and take significant steps to resolve the Rohingya crisis and provide a better and secure life to the Rohingyas.
Finally, as a human being, Rohingyas deserve a better and secured life with dignity and fundamental human rights. Thus, ensuring their basic human rights becomes a moral responsibility of the international community.
Why Rohingya repatriation failed?
Bangladesh-Myanmar signed a repatriation deal on November 23, 2017, though no progress has been observed in making repatriation successful. On July 29, 2019, Bangladesh handed over a list of 55, 000 Rohingyas for verification for repatriation. Myanmar only cleared 3,450 Rohingyas for beginning the repatriation. Notably, Rohingya refugee repatriation to Myanmar has been failed twice, one in November 2018 and another in August 2019. Against this backdrop, one can ask: What factors have accounted for to the failures of Rohingya refugee’s repatriation to Myanmar? To answer this question, one can identify the following factors.
First, the absence of conducive conditions/environment in Myanmar is the major hindrance to the successful repatriation of the Rohingyas. Myanmar government showed apathy towards repatriation. One can also argue that the Myanmar government did not show firm commitments in the repatriation process. Though in the declaratory postures they are showing the international community that they are interested in the repatriation, when it comes to operational policies, they are reluctant in the repatriation process through not creating favourable conditions/ conducive environment for the Rohingyas. Rohingyas are scared that if they are back, the Myanmar army will kill them.
Second, the failure of the international community to repatriate the Rohingya refugees in Myanmar becomes another critical factor.It seems that international community has confined its role in providing reliefs, foods, healthcare services, money to the Rohingya refugees and sometimes made an occasional visit to the Rohingya camp in Cox’s Bazar and took photographs and shared those (photos) in the social media and beyond. To a larger extent, the international community has bypassed their key responsibility to repatriate the Rohingyas to their homeland through pressurizing Myanmar. Thus, it will not be wrong to claim that the international community has totally failed to create a conducive environment in Myanmar which makes security concerns among the Rohingyas. Thus, those Rohingyas are not interested in to repatriate in Myanmar.
The most concerning is that it seems that the Rohingya issue is losing interest in the international community. There is already shrinkage of funds for the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar. If the international community totally fails to repatriate the Rohingyas, it will create a disastrous situation for Bangladesh. It is well known that Bangladesh is a densely populated country in the world with limited resources, as noted earlier. Thus, the country cannot afford to continue its supports to the Rohingyas. In addition, there is a stronger possibility of conflicts between the Rohingyas and local people in the days to come given the socio-economic realities of the society.
One can argue that the United Nations has so far failed to pressurize Myanmar and create a conducive environment for the repatriation. Considering the narrowly defined self-interest, Russia, China, India whole-heartedly supports the Myanmar government. Though China and India bear dissimilarities in many issues, in the case of Rohingya issue, they maintain a similar stand, supporting the Myanmar government. Notably, Myanmar is a crucial state for China’s Belt and Road Initiative project, while the country is key to India’s act east policy. In addition, the UNHCR, ASEAN, EU, USA, Japan also failed to pressurize the Myanmar government and facilitate the Rohingya repatriation.
Third, the political economy of the refugees/NGOs is also responsible for the failure of the repatriation process of the Rohingyas. Khaled Muhiuddin (2019) writes that foreign aid ‘is prolonging the crisis. It is common sense that if Rohingya refugees are having a better life in Bangladeshi camps than the one they experienced in Myanmar, they will see little reason for going back to Myanmar. That is why efforts to ensure safety for Rohingyas in Myanmar are more important than providing comfort to them in the Bangladeshi camps’. Thus, foreign aid is benefiting both the NGOs and the refugees.
Around 150 international and local NGOs are working in the 34 Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar. It is claimed that the political economy of the NGOs also works as a major hindrance to the Rohingya repatriation process. A resident of Cox’s Bazar, Rafiqul Islam Rafiq claims that various NGOs, including the UN agencies, demotivate the Rohingyas to repatriate (Bangla Vision, August 25, 2019). Fazlul Quader Chowdhury, president of BAPA and CAB, Cox’s Bazar contends that both international and local NGOs are telling the Rohingyas that this [Cox’s Bazar] is your place, it was once your place, a part of Arakan State. Since this is your place, you do not need to leave this place (Bangla Vision, August 25, 2019). A. N. M. Helal Uddin, president, civil society forum, Cox’s Bazar claims that if these Rohingyas leave, their (NGOs) business will be stopped. They are motivating the national crisis. The government should find out those NGOs and take actions against them (Bangla Vision, August 25, 2019).
Fourth, the economic interest of some local people also works as a hindrance to the repatriation. A resident called Jasim Uddin points out that the Rohingya refugees have created a huge business for the hotel, restaurant, flat owners who do not want that Rohingyas leave Cox’s Bazar(Bangla Vision, August 25, 2019). He claims that economic interest is the main factor of these owner classes, who devoid of patriotism. Notably, 1000 locally made weapons including knifes were seized from the NGO office SHED (Society for Health Extension and Development) who was working in the Rohingya camp (Osmany, 2019). Notably, SHED failed to provide any legal documents i.e. operating license to use these weapons (Aziz, 2019). Thus, it becomes important to monitor vigorously and ensure the accountability of the local and international NGOs who seek greater profits from prolonging the Rohingya crisis.
Fifth, one can also look at the role of the scholars and scholarship critically to resolve the Rohingya crisis. The Rohingya refugee crisis did not receive serious attention from the intellectual community. Even the role of Bangladeshi scholars is minimal in producing serious scholarship on the issue. The scholars cannot avoid their responsibility to resolve the crisis.
Finally, international media also failed to internationalize the issue and influence the policy formulations regarding the crisis. In the initial days, though the mainstream global media provided enough attention to the issue, in the latter days, they totally forgot the crisis. I wonder, if the same thing happens in the developed world, would the global media response be the same?
To conclude, Bangladesh, alone cannot resolve the Rohingya crisis. Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh strongly contends in addressing the 75thUnited Nations General Assembly that the Rohingya crisis has been created by Myanmar and thus has to resolve the crisis by Myanmar. In this case, since Myanmar is not interested in resolving the crisis, it is the international community that can pressurize the Myanmar government and facilitate successful repatriation. In fact, the role of the international community, including the major powers, international media becomes essential to encourage Rohingya repatriation. The role of the scholars and scholarship also becomes necessary. The bottom line is that for the greater cause of humanity, the international community must come forward to pressurize Myanmar government and facilitate successful repatriation. The world needs to remember that Bangladesh has already done a lot to the Rohingya refugees. Now, it is the responsibility of the international community. Isn’t it?