Coordinated International Efforts in both Myanmar and Bangladesh are Required to Accelerate Rohingya Repatriation


The Rohingya crisis is becoming increasingly complicated.  The number of Rohingyas is increasing every year due to the birth of roughly 35,000 children in Bangladeshi camps. The camps in Cox’s Bazar are becoming a safe haven for criminals and are triggering various security threats due to drug, human, and arms trafficking. As a result of this protracted crisis, the security threat has been shifting gradually from local to regional and global challenges which will be tough to control.

During the GCC Plus Forum conference, there was an extensive discussion regarding providing various forms of help, including food, to Rohingyas in Bangladesh in the current situation.  Bangladesh expects the support of these friendly countries in constructing a larger temporary shelter for the Rohingyas in Bhasanchar. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Palestine, Turkey, and Qatar have pledged to support and assist Bangladesh in its response to the Rohingya crisis. Kuwait and China both reaffirmed their commitment.

At the ‘Oslo Forum’ conference held in June by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Geneva-based Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, Bangladesh urged that ASEAN and the regional countries should play an active role in the safe and sustainable repatriation of Rohingyas. More than 100 international organizations and experts participated in this conference.

A number of countries, as well as the UN and donor organizations, are assisting the Rohingyas who have sought safety in Bangladesh. Japan recently provided US$4.4 million to the World Food Program (WFP) for food assistance to Rohingyas and locals. Japan will continue to work toward a long-term solution, including the repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar. It will work in partnership with international organizations, including the WFP, to improve living conditions for both Rohingyas and locals. Since the beginning of the crisis in August 2017, Japan has continued to provide assistance to Rohingyas in Bangladesh. Japan has contributed over $200 million in aid to WFP and other UN agencies as well as NGOs working in Bangladesh.

Numbers of Government development projects in Myanmar are funded by both the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Japan External Trade Organization (JETO). Japan is increasing its financial commitment to the Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt Special Economic Zone, the energy sector and the communications sector. It has also invested significantly in the establishment of special economic zones and hydropower plant rehabilitation projects in Myanmar. Japan is also quite significant in Myanmar politics. The Japanese government has given Myanmar more than $20 million in aid and development funds. Japan is taking steps to address the on-going Rohingya crisis. Japan has urged Myanmar’s government to take “stronger measures” for the repatriation of the Rohingyas and would continue to do so until the crisis is resolved.

China has great economic, political influence and has huge investments in infrastructure and energy sectors in Myanmar. Moreover, Myanmar is an important partner of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.  China has invested billions of dollars in projects in Rakhine state, including the establishment of a deep sea port and economic zone. Chinese interests are involved in three large projects in Rakhine’s Kyaukpyu Special Economic Zone. Kyaukpyu Deep Sea Port is an important project among these. The port is strategically important for China’s Belt and Road initiative. Oil imported from the Middle East arrives at the Kyaukpyu port via the Bay of Bengal. China owns 51 percent and Myanmar owns 49 percent of the 771-kilometer-long pipeline that connects the Rakhine coast to China’s southeastern Yunnan province. This pipeline can transport 22 million tons of oil and 12 billion cubic meters of natural gas. This pipeline is currently transporting 13 million tons of oil.

With China’s assistance, construction is currently continuing in Kyaukpyu to establish agricultural, ecotourism, and industrial enterprises in a 100-hectare industrial zone at a cost of $2.3 billion. These projects will generate jobs in Myanmar and help to develop Rakhine’s infrastructure.  Implementation of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor comprises the development of a rail link to the Indian Ocean, a deep sea port in Rakhine, a special economic zone along the border, and a new urban project in Yangon. Since the military government took power in Myanmar, the country has approved $3.8 billion in foreign investment. Of this, China will spend $2.5 billion on a liquefied natural gas plant. Successful implementation of China’s BRI projects requires stability in the border region.

Because of its natural resources and geopolitical importance, influential powers are unwilling to take severe action against Myanmar. Myanmar is a member of ASEAN, the Southeast Asian economic bloc, and Myanmar has good relations with China, Japan, Russia, India and other ASEAN countries. ASEAN is the most effective economic alliance in the region, with key ASEAN member state Singapore being a top investor in Myanmar. Their investment amount is about 24 billion dollars. That is, about one-fourth of foreign investment in Myanmar is Singaporean investment. Many analysts believe that the ASEAN is not taking strong action against Myanmar for business reasons to solve the Rohingya issue.

Following the military coup in 2021, the US and European countries imposed sanctions on the Myanmar army and government, but the situation has not improved significantly. Many people believe that this is motivated by long-term financial interests; Western countries do not want to abandon Myanmar entirely.  After China, Thailand, and Singapore, the European Union is Myanmar’s fourth-largest trading partner. Annual trade between the two sides exceeds $2.5 billion. Myanmar’s major source of income, accounting for half of its revenue, is the oil and gas sector. Protesters in Myanmar have demanded for sanctions against the country’s oil and gas fund, but Western companies with offices in Myanmar have resisted. The solution to the Rohingya crisis is being delayed due to regional and international politics and business interests.

If the situation in Rakhine improves, more jobs will be created, violence and hostility will be reduced, and acceptance of the Rohingyas will grow. Rohingyas can be employed in different establishments constructed by these countries. To lessen ethnic hatred, Rakhine’s Rohingyas must establish an acceptable ground through dialogue. Peaceful cohabitation between these two ethnic people, which has existed for centuries, must be maintained by pragmatic dialogue. Rakhine lawmakers have years of experience working with Myanmar’s military; they are educated, knowledgeable, and sensible. Regular discussions should continue by establishing good relations with them. Necessary steps must be taken to stop the racial hatred which contributed in aggravating this crisis. It will be able to deal with this situation politically and socially if the Myanmar government, the Rakhine people, and political parties see the Rohingyas as a force for Rakhine development rather than as a burden. International community and humanitarian organizations with the ability and experience to solve such situations should come together to address this issue.

Rohingyas staying inside Bangladesh should be motivated to return to Myanmar by giving them a positive impression of the situation inside Myanmar. In order to deal with the Rohingya crisis, Bangladesh needs humanitarian assistance including food, strong emergency response measures, and the development of a long-term framework. In addition, steps should be taken to encourage Rohingyas to return to Myanmar by enhancing their professional abilities and boosting their self-confidence. Simultaneously, on the Myanmar side, the security situation in Rakhine should be improved in order to create an atmosphere conducive to repatriation. Necessary steps should be taken to increase the acceptance of Rohingyas by the people of Rakhine, and attempts to strengthen the relationship between these two communities should continue.

Continued cuts in relief aid, diverted attention from the Rohingyas by other global crises will create a complex situation for Bangladesh which is not desirable. The Rohingya diaspora, immigrant Rohingya leaders, and Rohingya advocacy groups must be more vocal.  So far, their influence has been negligible in the international arena. Bangladesh has demonstrated humanity by sheltering the Rohingyas; now, the world community and humanitarian groups must take proactive measures for the repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar.  As a result of Bangladesh’s on-going diplomatic endeavours, several donor organizations, and powerful countries are now involved and aware of the Rohingya crisis.

The contribution of the United States, Japan, Canada, the European Union, and China in the Rohingya problem is known by the world. China is on the verge of attaining new diplomatic success in Asia. China’s contribution to political, economic, military, and strategic matters will be appreciated around the world if it creates an atmosphere suitable for repatriation from the current situation of the Rohingya problem. Repatriation Agreements can be updated and supplemented as needed to make the process more effective, faster, and simpler. Taking into account the agreement’s progress over the last six years, it must be made practical and implementable. To tackle the Rohingya crisis, the UN, the international community, and aid organizations must collaborate both in Myanmar and Bangladesh. Humanitarian assistance and support for the Rohingyas in Bangladesh should continue until the problem is resolved.

Donor agencies should come forward to facilitate the relocation and the construction of housing for the Rohingyas in Bhasanchar to relieve pressure from the overcrowded and confined camps of Cox’s Bazar. Relocation is a costly affair, and Bangladesh cannot continue on its own without the assistance of the international community. Steps should be taken to ensure and improve the security of Cox’s Bazar camps. To augment the existing measures financial support is necessary from the donors.  Training and job opportunities should be created to help the Rohingyas become self-sufficient. Ensuring the Rohingyas’ education in establishing their future in Rakhine, in collaboration with the countries investing there, should allow them to apply this training.

For last six years, Bangladesh alone is dealing with the Rohingya crisis created by Myanmar. It is not possible for Bangladesh to address this global crisis and bear this burden indefinitely.  Bangladesh is an overpopulated and developing country, additional 12.5 million Rohingyas are creating tremendous pressure on her existing setup. To assist Bangladesh in resolving this conflict, the United Nations, the international community, and donor organizations must work together to create a conducive atmosphere in both Bangladesh and Myanmar.

– 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 The Geopolitics [Link]