The Saudi Arabian pressure on Bangladesh to issue passports to 54,000 Rohingyas and bring back 462 others is unacceptable and unfair, analysts and Rohingya activists have said.
They said if the kingdom was really to send back the Rohingyas, they should mount pressure on Myanmar. They questioned as to why Bangladesh, which had taken in over a million Rohingyas, should take the 54,000 more.
The observation came after the foreign ministry revealed that Saudi Arabia has recently renewed its pressure on Dhaka over the Rohingya issue.
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said the Saudi authorities have declared that there were 54,000 Rohingyas, who had no passports, and that they do not allow stateless people in their country.
"They [Saudi Arabia] are not saying that they will send the 54,000 Rohingyas to Bangladesh, but they should be provided with Bangladeshi passports," Momen told reporters at the ministry yesterday.
He said Dhaka has informed Riyadh that Bangladesh could consider the Saudi request only if the Rohingyas had any prior passports or other documents.
Riyadh also asked Bangladesh to take back 462 Rohingyas, now in jail for various crimes.
"We said we can bring back those who have Bangladeshi passports," Momen said.
A foreign ministry official said Riyadh indicated that the labour market for the Bangladeshis in KSA may be affected if Dhaka did not respond the way Riyadh wanted.
There are over 2 million Bangladeshis in the kingdom.
Momen said in the 1970s and 80s, when the Rohingyas were persecuted in Myanmar, the then Saudi Badsha had welcomed and sheltered them. The Rohongyas now have children and grandchildren who speak Arabic and are used to Saudi culture. They don't speak Bangla and do not know Bangladesh.
Prof Imtiaz Ahmed of Dhaka University's international relations department said it was understood that the KSA economy was under pressure due to a decline in oil price and the war in Yemen. Bangladesh and Turkey have good relations too. Turkey-Saudi relations are not ideal at the moment.
"However, that should in no way be linked to the Rohingya issue," Prof Imtiaz told The Daily Star.
If Saudi Arabia really wants to send back the Rohingyas, it should pressure Myanmar because Myanmar at the ICJ did not say that they were Bangladeshi citizens but that Rohingyas were the Muslims of Arakan, he said.
Rohingyas are facing genocide and Saudi Arabia, as a leader of the Muslim Ummah, should stand beside them and help them have justice instead of doing injustice to them, he said.
"I also think that our mission in Saudi Arabia should create more awareness about the Rohingya genocide among the Saudi people and the government."
The International Criminal Court is investigating crimes against the Rohingyas and the International Court of Justice is holding a genocide trial against Myanmar.
Nay San Lwin, co-founder of Free Rohingya Coalition, an alliance of Rohingya worldwide, said as the genocide against Rohingya began in 1970s, thousands of Rohingyas fled the country. They had no choice but to hold the passports arranged by smugglers.
Saudi kings had sympathy for them and had given them residency permits. Most of them do not have a passport.
"They all belong to Myanmar. They are Myanmar citizens although Myanmar hasn't considered them as citizens. Pressuring Bangladesh to issue Bangladeshi passports is not right.
"The Saudi government must pressure the Myanmar embassy in Riyadh to issue them Myanmar passports instead of pressuring the Bangladesh government," he said.
"The genocide against the Rohingyas is ongoing and they cannot be sent back to Myanmar at this moment. They must not be sent back to Bangladesh as Bangladesh is not their country," Lwin said from Germany.
The Saudi government should mount pressure on Myanmar through all the 57 OIC members to issue passports to the Rohingyas, instead of threatening Bangladesh, he said.
Ending genocide should be the priority. All countries, including Saudi Arabia, should work hard to end the ongoing genocide against the Rohingyas, Lwin added.
"Once it ends, the Rohingya in exile will have a chance to go back to their homeland in Myanmar."
They should not be expelled from the country where they take refuge with a huge hope for survival, he said.
A Rohingya activist in Bangladesh said it was very disappointing that Saudi Arabia was showing inhumane attitude towards a small country like Bangladesh, which is sheltering about a million persecuted Rohingya, including some 750,000 who faced brutal military campaign in 2017.
As a leading and rich Muslim country, KSA should be more supportive to Bangladesh and work with other global powers to establish Rohingya rights, she said preferring anonymity.
"Saudi pressure on Bangladesh is illogical and unfair," she said.