The Rohingya repatriation conundrum | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 19, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:36 AM, September 19, 2019

The Rohingya repatriation conundrum

A recent UN report published on Monday gives a dreadful account of the situation in Myanmar stating that the Rohingya remaining in Myanmar’s Rakhine state face a “serious risk of genocide” and that the repatriation of the Rohingya living in Bangladesh is “impossible.” The report also said some 600,000 Rohingya are living in “deplorable” conditions in Rakhine state, subject to restrictions on movement that negatively affect almost every aspect of their lives.

This clearly indicates that the Myanmar government’s intention to take back the Rohingya from Bangladesh is nothing but an “eyewash”. The country has deceived not only Bangladesh but the international community. In such a situation, none of the Rohingya in Bangladesh’s refugee camps are likely to return to their motherland.

Even before this report had been made public, the repatriation attempts of the Rohingya had proved futile. After the second failed attempt, the Rohingya refugees have reiterated their demand for Myanmar citizenship and freedom of movement within and beyond their native province of Rakhine.

The last wave of exodus began about two years ago when hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled to Bangladesh, as a result of persecution by the Myanmar government and military. That exodus of several weeks turned certain pockets of Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazaar into the fourth largest refugee concentration in the world, practically seeing an entire ethnic group uprooted from their native lands. Two years on, with renewed talks of Rohingya repatriation, it appears that there is little sense of urgency among the refugees. In fact, there have been reports of strong reluctance on the part of the refugees to return to Myanmar where they have been forced to live in subhuman conditions, deprived of basic human needs.

In Bangladesh, the refugee camps have electricity and sufficient food. There are a host of NGOs helping the refugees with all kinds of support, from providing cooking utensils to imparting education. With a safer and more secure life in Bangladesh, the Rohingya’s list of conditions for repatriation is becoming longer making their return rather challenging.

Although they agree in principle and claim that they would like to return to their homeland, the Rohingya refugees also point out that there is no guarantee that they would not be persecuted by the Myanmar authority again. Some refugees unequivocally state that they would simply perish if they return, while recalling the brutal torture and violence against their kin.

The Myanmar government and its military have been accused of unleashing genocide to eliminate the Rohingya, and many of them living in Bangladesh cannot even bear the thought of trusting the government and the same military to keep their promise.

Among the several things that have notably changed in the last two years is that the Rohingya have found their solidarity. Although initially they did not have a common voice, a unified effort is becoming increasingly evident in their demonstrations during high-profile visits of VIPs through their statements and articulation of demands.

A recent example is the programme that had been organised to mark two years of the recent exodus of the Rohingya to Bangladesh. Thousands of Rohingya attended a rally observing August 25 as “Genocide Day” and placed a number of demands, including their safety, citizenship and punishment of those involved in killings of Rohingya in Myanmar.

Till date, the Myanmar authority did not meet a single demand of the Rohingya, which basically put the whole repatriation process in jeopardy.

The repatriation process can effectively take place only if the Myanmar government shows a genuine commitment by inviting representatives from Bangladesh, the international community and the Rohingya refugee community living in the camps, to visit the facilities that they claim to have built for the Rohingya. This initiative will help in creating effective communication channels and trust building platforms between the Rohingya and the Myanmar authorities.

Subsequently, the Bangladesh government should actively form an international oversight task force to visit the facilities that Myanmar claims to have built for the Rohingya as per the commitment made by the Myanmar authorities, and to create awareness to encourage repatriation.

The most important task for both Myanmar and Bangladesh would be to reduce trust deficiency to facilitate a meaningful repatriation process. Delay of repatriation of the Rohingya will result in multidimensional problems for Bangladesh.

Already the local people of Cox’s Bazar are becoming disgruntled by the prolonged presence of the refugees and tensions have erupted from time to time. There have been reports of some Rohingya refugees forming criminal gangs, connecting with local gangs and getting involved in crimes such as murder, human trafficking and drug smuggling. These activities pose a threat to both the locals and the Rohingya refugees within the camps.

In a situation that is so complex and getting worse every day, the global community must come forward unitedly with strong action to compel Myanmar to improve the situation in Rakhine state and create an environment that will allow the Rohingya to return.

Bangladesh stands beside the Rohingya refugees on humanitarian grounds and it is now the responsibility of the global community to stand beside Bangladesh to expedite the repatriation process by exerting pressure on Myanmar government. Otherwise, the displacement of such a huge population of refugees with no certain future will create further tensions in Bangladesh and threaten regional peace.


Mohammad Al-Masum Molla is a reporter at The Daily Star.

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