ISSN 2330-717X

Rohingya Crisis: Scrutinizing Underlying Causes Of Bhashan Char Demonstration – OpEd

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In the recent visit of UNHCR representatives including Gillian Triggs, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection and Raouf Mazou, Assistant High Commissioner for Operation on May 31, 2021, a group of some 500 to 600 Rohingya refugees reportedly demonstrated demanding the UN to engage robustly in the Rohingya crisis and to enhance relief facilities for them.

Bangladesh from the beginning of the relocation process is pursuing the international donor states and institutions to extend their hand for the most persecuted refugees. If the United Nations participated in the relocation process through providing adequate support, the demonstration would not take place. Previously, a number of Rohingya majhis (leaders), national and international journalists, UN, OIC and donor states had visited to take a look at the infrastructures and facilities of the Bhashan Char project. All of them expressed their satisfaction over the far better living conditions of Bhashan Char compared to the mobbed situation in the camps of Cox’s Bazar and no demonstrations occurred during the visits in the Bhashan Char. So, after the Bhashan char incident on May 31, the question arises what are the underlying causes of the sudden demonstration?

Shortage of Funding

After the last Rohingya refugee influx into Bangladesh on 25 August 2017, an estimated 7,45,000 Rohingyas fled from Myanmar and took shelter in 34 refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar district. Now Bangladesh hosts a total number of 11,03,272 registered Rohingya refugees with many more unregistered. The country is now under financial strain for costing nearly US  $900 million annually to maintain these refugees.

The table below demonstrates that from 2019, shortage of funds is increasing year to year which indicates that it has become difficult to maintain the supply and demand chain of basic needs for the Rohingya refugees which is the most foreseeable cause for the increasing grievances among the Rohingya refugees.

YearRequirementFundedFunding Shortfall
2017 (Sep. 17- Feb. 18)$434.1M$317M27%
2018 (Mar- Dec. 18)$951M$655M31%
2019$920M$699M24%
2020$1058M$629M40.5%
2021 (Jan- April)$943M$134M86%
Table: Funds and fund shortage under Joint Response Plan (JRP) (2017-2021)

Negligence of international community

The UNHCR expressed concerns over the Bhashan char incident but they did not take concrete actions to protect the rights of the Rohingya Refugees so far. Instead of increasing the humanitarian assistance to the distressed Rohingya refugees, the funding for them has been curtailed in the recent past. Rather than cooperating with the initiative of the Bangladesh government, the UN and other humanitarian organizations were more concerned about alleging the sustainability of the infrastructures in natural calamities, the remoteness of the island from the mainland and relocation “in a phased manner”. 

Bangladesh reiterated that the relocation has been conducted on a voluntary basis and approximately 18,414 Rohingya refugees happily shifted there looking for a glimpse of hope. The island is totally safe from natural calamities because of the standard infrastructures and housing facilities including the nine-feet high embankments, 120 cluster houses with cyclone centers, constructed after analyzing 176 years historical data and statistics. During the cyclone Amphan or the recent Yaas, no damage or death is reported in the Bhashan Char. Instead of opposing the initiative of relocation process of one-tenth of the Rohingya refugees from the camps of Cox’s Bazar, the international community should actively engage with the humanitarian activities in the Bashan Char.

Protracted repatriation process

There is no contradiction among the Rohingya refugees, Bangladesh government and international community that the Arakan Muslims are desperate to return to their homeland. However, it is really pathetic that four years have passed but a single refugee haven’t been repatriated to Myanmar. It affects the psychology of the Myanmar nationals and the demonstration is the outcome of the grievances. Besides, it is also reported that there are a number of refugees in the Bhashan Char protest who want to go to Malaysia illegally using the sea route but they have been revoked by the security forces of Bangladesh.  Their long aspiration for Malaysia also contributed in demonstrating the gathering during the high UNHCR officials.

To conclude, the Bhashan Char incident during the visits of the UN delegates is a strong indication of grievances among the Rohingya refugees for the protracted refugee conditions in Bangladesh, lingering repatriation process and the diminishing funding from the international community. Bangladesh cannot solve the Rohingya crisis alone; the international community should come forward with promised humanitarian actions and should work in a coordinated way with Bangladesh to find a durable solution of the Rohingya crisis. The Bhashan Char incident is clearly a reminder to all to find a fast and comprehensive solution; otherwise, it will destabilize regional peace and stability in the near future.

*Shaikh Abdur Rahman, Independent Researcher,MSS and BSS (Hons.) Department of International Relations University of Rajshahi

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