Speakers at a panel discussion yesterday talked about Bangladeshis who took refuge in India during 1971 and Rohingyas currently being sheltered in Cox's Bazar.
The discussion, titled “1971 Refugee Experience: Reflection of Past and Present”, was organised by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Liberation War Museum (LWM) to mark World Refugee Day (June 20).
During his opening speech, UNHCR Deputy Country Representative Papa Kysma Sylla commended the government and the people of Bangladesh for allowing Rohingyas to take shelter and providing necessary amenities.
The seminar was moderated by Prof. Imtiaz Ahmed of Dhaka University's International Relations department, and included Julian Francis and Meghna Guhathakurta as speakers.
Julian Francis, a foreign friend of Bangladesh during the Liberation War, recollected his memories as a coordinator of Oxfam in Kolkata, India.
He recalled how he had witnessed thousands of Bangladeshis entering India through the borders in West Bengal. When he had sent telegrams to Oxfam's head office in London, they thought the numbers were mistakenly inflated.
Regarding Rohingya refugees, he said that it is not just about providing them with relief materials, but more importantly how to keep them happy, which would help them to forget about the ordeals.
Executive Director at Research Initiatives, Bangladesh (RIB) Meghna Guhathakurta shared her experiences as a displaced individual in 1971.
After her father, Professor of English at Dhaka University Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta, was killed during Operation Searchlight, she and her family had to flee and seek shelter in multiple places, finally ending up in a Christian orphanage, feigning as an orphan to hide her identity.
She felt that the current Rohingya exodus cannot be compared to that of 1971, adding that now with more facilities and awareness, there are scores of Rohingya women who can fend for themselves.
A presentation by the Center for the Study of Genocide and Justice, under LWM, highlighted testimonies of those who had experienced sexual violence at the hands of their oppressors in Myanmar.
Prof. Imtiaz Ahmed said that the issues of 1971 and the current Rohingya crisis are different and cannot be related.
The Rohingyas, he said, are not considered as citizens of their own country, but Bangladeshis fought for their independence and more importantly, their territory. He added the Rohingyas simply want the recognition of their identity as Myanmar nationals. They would be happy to go back and resettle in their country.
Trustee and Member Secretary of LWM Ziauddin Tariq Ali said that the manner in which the civil society and social activists have handled the Rohingya situation is truly commendable.