'Keep in mind Myanmar is a neighbour'
The Rohingya crisis has compelled Bangladesh to reshape its foreign policy, Secretary to Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Shahidul Haque, said at a roundtable yesterday.
Speaking to various stakeholders involved in the response to the crisis, Shahidul said that all the recent steps that Bangladesh has taken with regards to the crisis were made considering Myanmar will always be a neighbour.
“Our narrative was that Myanmar is our neighbour and they will continue to be so. So the dilemma was how far do we go?” said Shahidul.
“Many say that we should have been bolder. Many ask why we were so polite? But we have to keep in mind that they [Myanmar] will always be our neighbour,” he added.
The secretary further said that the ministry had to work on striking a balance between national interest and serving the displaced people.
“The big predicament is what kind of rights will you give the Rohingyas and how much of that will affect your national interest? It's a tricky balance. The Rohingya issue is forcing us to reshape our foreign policy. That's why we still sit with Myanmar at BIMSTEC,” he explained.
Shahidul, who was the chief guest at the roundtable, said this in response to statements made by various stakeholders, implying that Bangladesh had taken a rather “polite” approach and that it needed to “redraw” its strategy as far as the crisis is concerned.
Former foreign secretary Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury, for instance, said, “What has happened so far has not worked.” Speakers at the roundtable also indicated that Bangladesh should approach the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Shahidul, however, said that the ministry has had plenty of debates about going to the ICC and that the current direction it has taken is the right one.
Also present at the programme was Devrim Ozturk, the Turkish ambassador to Bangladesh. He emphasised the aspect of accountability.
“Accountability remains crucial for the way forward. This is required for the prevention of such crimes in the future,” said Ozturk.
Mia Seppo, the resident coordinator of the United Nations, said that the solution of the crisis can only be solved in Myanmar.
“The secretary general of the UN, after visiting the camps, described it as a miracle on the edge. It was a miracle in terms of the response, and it was also a miracle in terms of the void in the loss of life and having been able to improve the condition. This miracle was possible thanks to a collaborative effort,” she said.
Senior Economist at the Policy Research Institute, Ashiqur Rahman, stressed the need for more financial support from the international donors.
“Currently Jordan is facing a similar crisis with the Syrian refugees. Jordan is spending USD 3,650 per refugee, which amounts to six percent of its GDP. Bangladesh has 1.1 million refugees. The UN has only sought $1 billion from its contributors, which is a conservative demand,” said Rahman.
“If we don't stand beside them we are depriving them of basic needs and that increases the risk of radicalisation,” he added.
The programme, entitled "Rohingya Crisis: Response of Bangladesh and International Community" took place at a city hotel yesterday afternoon.