Six Years of Rohingya Crisis: How Long Bangladesh Will Bear This?

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The Rohingya crisis is an ongoing issue in Bangladesh. Six years have passed as of this August without a single Rohingya returning to Myanmar. A number of initiatives and activities have been seen during the past year to address this situation. Despite all, the repatriation process has not yet started. The clash between the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar Army in the Myanmar-Bangladesh border region took place in last August. That has created a threat across the bordering areas, which can be called as military provocation by Myanmar. However, Bangladesh has dealt with this crisis diplomatically and managed to control it successfully. Peace in the area as a whole, as well as inside Myanmar, is in danger as a result of this ongoing violence.

The Rohingyas living in Bangladeshi camps for more than six years are growing impatient and frustrated since there hasn’t been a favourable environment for their repatriation to Myanmar. This has led to numerous security problems and posing threat to peaceful existence. Security situation of the Rohingya camps is becoming unstable day by day. Murder, human trafficking, drug and weapon smuggling, kidnappings and fires occur often. These elements make the worsening of the law-and-order situation and the incidence of armed attacks highly worrisome from a security standpoint. A regional and global security threat has evolved from crime and human trafficking in Myanmar and throughout Southeast Asia. Trafficking of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis from the coasts of Myanmar and Bangladesh to Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia has become a serious problem. Illegal drug and yaba trafficking from Myanmar to other neighbouring countries has increased alarmingly and poses a security threat to the entire South Asian region.

More than 20,000 workers from more than 100 foreign and local organizations are working in various types of humanitarian services in Rohingya camps. NGO employees working in the camp are concerned since the security situation deteriorates daily, and many of them are experiencing insecurity. Due to threats of kidnapping, murder, and other terrorists’ incidents, more than 20 NGOs have limited their support activities in the camps, and some of them are even ceasing to operate, which is concerning. To control terrorist activities, environmental degradation and reduce pressure on the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, the Bangladesh government has relocated 30,500 Rohingya to Bhasan Char under its own management, with plans to accommodate a total of 100,000 Rohingyas.

Bangladesh has sought assistance from friendly countries, donor agencies and international organizations to cover the cost of shifting the Rohingyas from Cox’s Bazar to Bhasan Char, as this relocation process is expensive. At the same time, donors’ help was requested for the construction of new infrastructure in Bhasan Char. More Rohingyas can be sent to Bhasan Char as soon as feasible by constructing more camps, which will increase the assurance of their protection. To support this initiative, the international community must act immediately.

At the initiative of China, Myanmar government has undertaken a pilot project to build 15 new villages on 750 plots to house Rohingyas. A delegation of 27 members, including 20 Rohingyas, was taken there on May 5 at the initiative of Myanmar to boost the confidence of the Rohingyas and see if the environment in Rakhine State is suitable for repatriation. The Rohingya’s staying inside Bangladesh expressed that they do not want to go back to the model villages and camps. they want to return to their villages in Myanmar and they are not interested in repatriation if they can’t go back there. The process of repatriation has largely ceased at this point. However, China has continued to engage in this process. China’s Special Envoy for Asian Affairs Deng Xijun visited Dhaka on July 30 and brought a new dimension to the progress of the repatriation process. As the Rohingyas do not want to go back to the camps in Myanmar, the new proposal has agreed to resettle the Rohingyas in the areas where they used to live instead of taking them to camps or model villages.   Rohingya women rally to return to Myanmar, they want to return to their country. 52 percent of total Rohingyas in the camps are women. Many of the Rohingya also said they were willing to return to Myanmar voluntarily.

Regarding this initiative of Myanmar, the UN and Western countries said that the security situation in Myanmar is not safe for Rohingya repatriation and asked to halt this project. The UN has said that repatriation will begin when democracy returns to Myanmar. In the current context, it can be assumed that a change in the situation in Myanmar is a matter of time. As a result, the problem is likely to persist for an indefinite period of time. Since Myanmar does not allow Western countries and the UN organizations to work with the Rohingya in their country, the UN is unable to play an effective role in solving the Rohingya problem in Myanmar. Noeleen Heyzer, the UN Special Envoy for Myanmar, resigns after 18 months in office after failing to perform her duties as a result of the Myanmar government’s lack of cooperation.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has reduced food aid for the Rohingya from $12 to $10 per capita per month since March1. Later, from June 1, it was reduced from $10 to $8, which is disappointing. The Rohingyas are completely dependent on funding from the international community. Aid workers fear that this will increase the food crisis in the Rohingya camps and worsen the security situation in the camps. Representatives of some countries and donor agencies providing aid to the Rohingyas visited Rohingya camps in July. Relief aid to the Rohingyas is currently dwindling, with some countries offering to assimilate the Rohingyas with Bangladesh which Bangladesh has refused. Bangladesh came up with the proposal to relocate the of Rohingyas to a third country. If some country wishes to accept Rohingyas, Bangladesh will be open to welcome the idea.

Chief Prosecutor of International Criminal Court (ICC) Karim Asad Ahmad Khan has expressed concern that the reduction of food aid to the Rohingyas could worsen the law-and-order situation in the camps and will have a negative impact on women and children. The European Union (EU) Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmour said that, the ongoing funding crisis to deal with the Rohingya issue is worrying and that the EU’s support for the Rohingyas will continue, which is encouraging. The US delegation announced another Tk 740 crore in aid to the Rohingyas, urging them to be patient in their quest for repatriation and justice.

At present many events are taking place related to the Rohingya crisis. Myanmar is showing interest to repatriate the Rohingyas to their original villages. This is a shift from their earlier decision of the pilot project taken with the initiative by China. Western countries and donor agencies reduced the aid for the Rohingyas and this in turn created unease among this community. Rohingya women and voluntary Rohingyas are showing their interest to return to Myanmar, despite the reluctance of some Rohingyas for repatriation.

Rohingyas should go back to Myanmar and donor agencies should continue their humanitarian support until this problem is solved. World humanity should come forward to solve this problem quickly. The deterioration of the security situation in the Rohingya camps poses challenges to Bangladesh’s security as well as regional and global security. The Rohingya crisis is a regional and global crisis caused by Myanmar. It is an additional pressure for Bangladesh. Bangladesh is forced to bear the burden of this crisis. Bangladesh government has to spend more than 1 billion dollars every year for Rohingyas. The Government of Bangladesh will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to Rohingyas but will not allow national security to be compromised. Myanmar government and the international community must take initiatives for the sustainable solution of the Rohingya problem. Myanmar’s military rulers, opposition coalitions, Buddhist religious organizations, intellectuals and ordinary people of the majority Bhamar and Rakhine population must be involved in order to find a permanent solution to this problem. For the development of Rakhine, importance should be given to implementing the recommendations of the Kofi Annan Commission report.

Bangladesh should be prepared with all kinds of military, diplomatic, economic and social capabilities to deal with this problem. In the coming days, new donors will have to be sought to continue the relief efforts to deal with this crisis. It is a regional problem and its impact will affect the region. ASEAN countries along with regional powerful country India should take active measures to solve this crisis. Countries where Rohingyas have taken refuge fleeing from Myanmar can also be associated with it. Efforts should be made to quickly build up reserves in order to maintain relief efforts and financial aid in the event of any serious catastrophe. Necessary measures should be taken so that humanitarian agencies working in Rohingya camps feel safe to work inside the camps.

There is a need to develop an implementable roadmap to address this protracted problem, which will help in creating an enabling environment and confidence for the Rohingyas to voluntarily return to Myanmar. That will also allow to take steps to deal with possible crises in different periods. The actions needed should be executed as part of a permanent framework to guarantee sustainability and continuity of crisis resolution operations. This problem created by Myanmar involves the lives, livelihood and security of 1.25 million Rohingyas who have taken refuge in Bangladesh and about 500,000 local people. Bangladesh has been facing this huge humanitarian crisis for six years, all concerned stakeholders must be united to expedite the repatriation of Rohingyas to relieve Bangladesh from this Burden.

– 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]