Rohingya trouble in jobs abroad
Apart from causing various internal difficulties, some Rohingya refugees, who have been staying in the southeastern part of Bangladesh, are now creating trouble abroad, threatening the country's overseas labour market and putting the government in a fix.
Officials and experts said many Rohingya refugees are becoming voters, managing passports illegally, and migrating as workers to different countries, which may thwart government efforts to repatriate them.
Around 700 Rohingyas, who already made their way to Saudi Arabia, put Bangladesh in a spot of bother after being captured. Saudi authorities arrested them and kept them in a deportation centre in Jeddah, and are now pressing Bangladesh to take them back.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), the largest labour market for Bangladeshi migrant workers, also hinted that they would not address to Bangladeshi workers' problems if the arrested Rohingyas were not taken back.
The government, considering the seriousness of the problem, sent a three-member delegation to Saudi Arabia early October to talk with the Saudi officials and find a solution.
"The arrested Rohingyas are Myanmar nationals but Saudi authorities claimed that they entered the country with Bangladeshi passports," the delegation, headed by joint secretary (political) of the home ministry Md Nurun Nabi Talukder, mentioned in its report on return.
Officials at the home ministry and expatriate welfare and overseas employment ministry said the Rohingyas usually destroy their passports and seek Saudi assistance for shelter and jobs, which were also provided to them on humanitarian grounds.
"But the issue has turned out to be a major concern as Saudi Arabia is Bangladesh's largest labour market with around 2 million Bangladeshis working there," said an official, adding that KSA significantly reduced the number of visas issued to Bangladeshis during the last two years.
He said the KSA has also not been allowing Bangladeshis to transfer work permits from one to another employer, forcing thousands of Bangladeshis to return home.
Of the 700 Rohingyas, Saudi authorities could only provide passport numbers and addresses of 52. The Bangladeshi delegation said if it could be identified that they are Bangladeshis, they would be returned home.
"Families of these 52 or others arrested are staying in Saudi Arabia. As their families are large, it is apprehended that at least 10 will have to be brought back with each of the listed 'Rohingyas'. If this process starts, it will continue and Bangladesh will have to bring back many more," the report says.
In its detailed report, the delegation said Saudi authorities think the Rohingyas got involved in various crimes there which prompted them to try to deport them.
As Saudi authorities asked Bangladesh to take back those who went there with Bangladeshi passports, the delegation said Bangladesh is eager to solve the problem but it cannot accept them unless their nationalities are confirmed. "One cannot be a Bangladeshi just because one speaks Bangla."
After interviews with some of them in the deportation centre, the delegation said Rohingyas are not interested in returning to Bangladesh. They said they are not citizens of Bangladesh.
"Addressing the issue is very difficult as it is not any common consular matter; rather it has humanitarian, administrative and political dimensions. As these people entered Saudi Arabia with Bangladeshi passports, KSA got the scope to press Bangladesh," the delegation observed in the report.
Saudi authorities are also asking Bangladesh mission there to issue or renew Bangladeshi passports even though they know well that those people were actually from Myanmar, the delegation said.
Home Secretary Abdus Sobhan Sikder said the government has already directed authorities concerned to make sure that no more Rohingyas can infiltrate Bangladesh and bring to book local influential people who patronise Rohingyas and help them get voter IDs and passports.
"We requested the UNHCR to put pressure on Myanmar government to expedite the repatriation process," he told The Daily Star, adding that the Rohingya refugees have been creating problems for Bangladesh at home and abroad.
About the Saudi crisis, the home secretary said Bangladesh will not accept them if they are not identified as Bangladesh nationals.
Following a mass influx of Rohingyas to Bangladesh in the 90's, around 2.4 lakh were repatriated. Officials concerned say that apart from the 25,000 registered Rohingya refugees in two camps in Cox's Bazar, there are around 4 lakh illegal Rohingyas living in Cox's Bazar, Bandarban, Khagrachhari and Rangamati.
With the help of a section of passport officials and local leaders in these districts, many became voters, and got Bangladeshi passports to go to Saudi Arabia on umrah and hajj visas and overstayed. Officials say around 1 lakh Rohingyas live there and they might have gone there from Bangladesh.
Abdus Sobhan Sikder said, "If the Rohingyas get voter ID cards by providing false information those must be confiscated."