Bangladesh is hosting to nearly a million Rohingyas that fled Myanmar from fear of military persecution. The country, which already grapples with social and economic constraints and is also densely populated has received international praise for its efforts, but the growing reality of the adverse impacts of the influx can hardly be overlooked. The UNDP report of 2018 portrays the effects that the influx has had on the already weak socio-economic development of the areas in which the significant proportion of the Rohingyas have been sheltered. The report terms the scenario as an “extraordinary burden,” which is further compounded due to the fact that these places are already “confronted with formidable challenges”. Substantial effects have been found on the decline of daily wages as well as public services and the environment.
As per the study that was conducted in Ukhiya and Teknaf, at least 100 ha of crop land was damaged by refugee activities between August 2017 and March 2018, in addition to 76 ha of arable land that has been occupied by refugee settlements and humanitarian agencies. Moreover, around 5000 acres of land have been rendered useless because of sandy soil flowing down from the mountain slopes, which are being used for refugee housing purposes. A decrease in daily labour for the local communities were found, owing to the fact that the Rohingyas are willing to do the work at an even lower rate.
A rise in headcount poverty has also been identified in these areas. The study has also found that the influx has had a significant impact on vulnerability of the communities to poverty. In Teknaf, 3,719 individuals and 567 households have become vulnerable whereas in Ukhiya the figures are 3,762 and 685, respectively.
Security concerns and law enforcement issues are also widely pervasive in the areas that house the Rohingyas. It has been observed that although sympathetic to their plights, the host communities harbour negative views of Rohingyas and cite security concerns as the reason. The increase in checkpoints and security restrictions have also not been well-received by the communities. Amidst the growing incidents of violence between the Rohingyas and the host communities, a widely held perception is that the instances of drug trafficking, addiction and smuggling have increased in Cox’s Bazar since the refugee crisis began. The rising sense of divide is a clear obstacle to social cohesion between the refugees and the host communities.
Environmental damage is one of the most significant results of the Rohingya crisis. As per the Cox’s Bazar Forest Department, the influx has destroyed about 4,818 acres of forest reserves worth US$55 million. This has caused deprivation of livelihood to those who earn a living from forest resources. Moreover, around 750,000 kg of timber, vegetation and roots are collected as cooking fuel daily, thus signalling an increased need for consumption of finite resources. This is causing deforestation and loss of habitat for wildlife.
While Bangladesh has an obligation under customary international law against “non-refoulement”, it is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention. However, the responsibility towards the persecuted Rohingyas cannot be bypassed since they are mandate refugees, who are entitled to protection under the mandate of the UNHCR regardless of which country they are situated in.
These persistent concerns bring to light the existing inadequacies in the international legal framework for refugee protection, which places specific responsibilities upon the host States but does not enumerate guidelines on the burden-sharing obligations of other countries. Therefore, amidst the talks of repatriation and the persistent international concerns regarding the conditions in Myanmar, it is a pressing need of time to address the sustainability of the facilitation of the Rohingyas keeping in mind the needs of the local communities as well.