Bangladesh Needs Concerted Support To Manage Protracted Rohingya Crisis

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Bangladesh is providing shelter and supporting the persecuted Rohingyas on humanitarian grounds for nearly six years. In addition, for the repatriation of the Rohingyas to Myanmar, Bangladesh government has been trying its best to resolve the crisis along with China and the international community.

The repatriation process is not yet successful because Myanmar has not come forward to resolve this issue. Bangladesh signed a repatriation deal with Myanmar in November 2017. Repatriation efforts taken in 2018 failed as the situation in Rakhine state was unsafe and Rohingyas were not interested to return in that situation. Again in 2019, an attempt was made to start the repatriation with the mediation of China but it was not also successful. As a result, no progress has been made in the issue of Rohingya repatriation in the last six years. Following China’s involvement in repatriation talks, small-scale repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar has been under discussion since 2020 and China has been pressuring Myanmar to expedite the repatriation.

Recently, Myanmar took initiative to start the repatriation process and took 11 diplomats from 8 countries posted in Myanmar to see the temporary camps in Mongdoo and Sittwe cities and the surrounding areas of Rakhine state. Myanmar wants to take thousand plus Rohingyas initially as pilot project, but repatriating 1.2 million Rohingyas in this process will make this issue protracted. To deal with the problems caused by this long-term stay of Rohingyas in Bangladesh, more Rohingyas need to be relocated from Cox’s Bazar.

Rohingyas are currently living in overcrowded and inhumane conditions in camps in Cox’s Bazar, causing social and security problems. Conflicts, abductions, trafficking, and hostage-taking are common crimes among the Rohingyas staying in the camps. Many Rohingyas are involved in various types of drug and illegal trade. Frequent shooting incidents are taking place in Rohingya camps and these incidents involve multiple armed groups clashing with each other. In addition to these, killings by shooting or hacking and the incidents of setting fire to the camps are also taking place. Currently, 10 rogue groups are active in the Rohingya camps, including the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa), two terrorist groups and seven bandit groups. Arsa is controlling most of these camps. Arsa’s presence and suspicious activities have created security risks in the camps.

On March 5, a fire broke out in the Rohingya camp in Balukhali, burning down nearly 2,000 houses, leaving 10,000 to 12,000 people homeless. As the camp houses are close together and densely populated, the fire quickly spread to neighbouring camps, causing more damage. Many believe that Arsa terrorists have planned this fire. The investigation committee formed to find out the cause of the fire has found evidence that the fire incident was planned sabotage. The report of the investigation committee stated that the arson incident is said to have taken place due to a terrorist group’s dominance or an incident related to it. The inquiry committee has made 10 recommendations including filing a case for the fire incident and increasing regular law enforcement operations and intelligence activities. On March 22, 2021, a terrible fire also occurred in the Rohingya camp. At that time 11 people lost their lives, around 500 were injured and more than 9 thousand houses were burnt. According to the available data, 222 fires occurred in Rohingya camps in 2021. Of these, 99 were accidental, 60 were sabotage, and the remaining 63 had no known cause.

The common Rohingyas spends the night in fear due to terrorist shootings and clashes in the camps at night. More than 20,000 workers from 100 domestic and foreign organizations have been working in various humanitarian services including health, food, education and housing in the camps for the last six years. As the situation worsens day by day, besides the Rohingyas, NGO-INGO workers who are working in the camps are also worried about these incidents and many of them are suffering from insecurity.

More than 20 NGOs have limited their services in the camps due to threats of abductions, and murders from the terrorists, including Arsa, and some NGOs are closing their operations. Outside the camps, Rohingya terrorists kidnap local farmers and take them to remote places to torture and extort ransom, the local people are also in panic from these activities. Public safety will be threatened if this situation prevails and needs to be controlled immediately.  Due to the deteriorating security situation of the camp, the general Rohingyas, local residents, local and foreign NGO-INGO workers working in the camp are suffering from insecurity, this is disrupting the normal activities of the camp, which should be stopped immediately.

Bangladesh continues to discuss the Rohingya issue at the global forum. Following this, the Bali Process Forum held in Australia on February 10, at the Ministerial Conference on Human Trafficking and Smuggling, Bangladesh mentioned that the   Rohingya issue is a threat to regional peace and security and to solve the problem. For the sustainable repatriation of the Rohingyas to Myanmar Bangladesh urged all to work actively to resolve this issue. Bangladesh seeks Australia’s cooperation in creating international pressure on Myanmar to speed up repatriation. It is requested to consider taking Rohingyas to Australia through refugee visas besides providing humanitarian aid. Indonesia’s cooperation is sought in engaging ASEAN member states in Rohingya repatriation and creating pressure on Myanmar in this regard.

As there is no guarantee of speedy repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar in the current context and the deteriorating conditions of the camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh is keen to relocate more Rohingyas to Bhasanchar an island in Bay of Bengle to ensure the safety of the Rohingyas. Bangladesh has built housing for 100,000 Rohingyas in Bhasanchar under its own management. Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has sought the assistance of the United Nations to relocate the Rohingyas to Bhasanchar. Rohingyas have livelihoods in Bhasanchar and can live a dignified life there in a livable environment.On February 17, a 16-member high-level delegation including the ambassadors of Japan, China, France and Indonesia visited Bhasanchar and expressed satisfaction with the living conditions and facilities of the Rohingyas staying there.

In March at the Prime Minister’s office with the ambassadors of various countries, the government made two proposals calling for the assistance of friendly countries and international organizations to relocate the Rohingyas from Cox’s Bazar to Bhasanchar. The first proposal mentions bearing the cost of transporting the Rohingyas from Cox’s Bazar to Bhasanchar and the second proposal mentions the construction of new infrastructure in Bhasanchar for the Rohingyas. 30,000 Rohingyas have been relocated there from Cox’s Bazar so far and another 70,000 need to be relocated there. This relocation process is expensive and it is difficult for Bangladesh alone to bear this cost.

It has been proposed to friendly countries to help bear the cost of taking the Rohingyas from Cox’s Bazar to Bhasanchar. Camps have been built in one-third of the Bhasanchar area. Infrastructure can be constructed in the remaining two-thirds will allow more Rohingyas to be relocated there. Bangladesh has sought help from friendly countries to build new infrastructure in Bhasanchar. As soon as more Rohingyas are relocated to Bhasan Char, it will be possible to reduce the pressure from Cox’s Bazar camps and also ensure their safety.

Bangladesh urges UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Myanmar, Noeleen Heyzer, to play a strong role in finding and dealing with the root causes of the Rohingya crisis. Bangladesh also emphasizes the issue of continuing humanitarian assistance to the Rohingyas to the UN member states under the principle of ‘Responsibility and Burden Sharing’.

In addition to ensuring the safety of the workers engaged in providing relief and other assistance in the camps, the security of the locals and the support to overcome the fear existing among them should be strengthened. In order to speed up and sustain repatriation, the UN and aid agencies should continue their efforts in Bangladesh as well as to create conditions conducive to repatriation in Myanmar. At present, various intelligence agencies are working together with Armed Police Battalion (APBN) to control the law and order situation and crime in the Rohingya camps through coordinated efforts. 

Financial support is needed to take additional steps as per the recommendations of the inquiry committee to ensure the safety of Rohingya camps and local people. Monetary support is also needed to relocate the Rohingyas from Cox’s Bazar to Bhasanchar. In the on-going context, it is expected that the UN and international organizations will come forward to solve the problem by taking effective steps to implementing the measures taken by Bangladesh to ensure the humanitarian support and security of the Rohingyas in the deteriorating situation.

– Brig Gen (Retd) Hasan Md Shamsuddin, ndc, psc, afwc, Mphil, is a Lead Researcher for the Rohingya, Myanmar and ASEAN Affairs at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

Published in Eurasia Review [Link]