Rohingya crisis is ongoing for last almost seven years. So far the repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar failed to start despite number of initiative taken by different stakeholders. In 2023, several initiatives were taken to deal with this issue, but at the end of the year the situation remained unchanged. With the initiative of China Myanmar took a pilot project for the repatriation of selected Rohingyas to the Rakhine state of Myanmar. As a result some Rohingyas could visit Rakhine under the supervision of Myanmar authority after more than six years. Rohingyas are still facing an uncertain future and the pressure on Bangladesh is increasing.
A number of events pertaining to the Rohingya crisis occurred in 2023. With the initiative of China Myanmar initiated the pilot project for the repatriation of the Rohingyas at the beginning of the year. On March 8, 2023, Myanmar government arranged a visit for 11 diplomats of ASEAN countries, Bangladesh, India, and China to the camps built for the Rohingyas in Maundaw region of Rakhine and the surrounding areas. On March 15, a delegation of 22 members from Myanmar came to Cox’s Bazar and verified the information of 480 Rohingyas. At China’s initiative, the Myanmar government undertook a pilot project to build 15 new Model villages to house the Rohingyas. On May 5, at Myanmar’s invitation, a group of 27 people -20 of whom were Rohingyas – visited the Model villages in Rakhine state with the goal of bolstering their self-confidence and assessing the conditions for their repatriation.
They have been told that Myanmar wants to start the Rohingya repatriation process as soon as possible. Rohingyas who have taken refuge in Bangladesh are not interested in repatriation if they cannot return to their villages. Later on, Myanmar has agreed to resettle the Rohingyas in the areas where they used to live before coming to Bangladesh. China wants to start repatriating 1,176 Rohingyas under pilot project. Five transit camps are being constructed to repatriate the Rohingyas to Myanmar. Bangladesh is always hopeful about the success of China’s tripartite initiative on the pilot project for the repatriation of Rohingya, despite the fact that it has encountered several challenges.
The entire situation was negatively impacted by the reduction in food aid for the Rohingyas. In 2023, the World Food Organization (WFP) has cut food aid to the Rohingya by nearly 17 percent as donors reduce donations due to the global economic downturn and crisis. The per capita monthly allocation for food for the Rohingyas was $12, which was reduced to $10 from first March, and from $10 to $8 from first June, 2023. As a result, aid workers fear that the food crisis in the Rohingya camps will increase and the security situation in the camps may worsen. The Rohingyas are completely dependent on funding from the international community. Reducing the food allocation for the Rohingyas will create pressure in meeting their basic needs which in turn will increase crime.
Security situation of the Rohingya camps are growing more insecure day by day for a number of reasons. There are constant incidents of murder, human trafficking, drug and arms smuggling, kidnappings and ransom demands and shootings. A section of Rohingyas are involved in various crimes including murder, kidnapping, rape, weapons, drug trafficking, smuggling. Because of them the locals are also under constant fear and threat. Trafficking of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis from the coasts of Myanmar and Bangladesh to Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia has now become a serious problem. Illegal smuggling of drugs and Yaba from Myanmar to other neighboring countries has increased alarmingly. Rohingya camps and border insecurity poses security threat to the entire South Asian region.
In Rohingya camps, 2438 different types of crimes including weapons, drugs, rape, kidnapping, robbery, attack on police, murder and human trafficking have been filed. From August 25, 2017 a total of 186 killing took place in the Rohingya camps. At least 74 Rohingyas have died in 61 clashes and shootings in Rohingya camps since April 2023. Currently, 1.25 million registered Rohingyas are living in the camps in Bangladesh. More than 70,000 Rohingyas are living per square kilometer in the camp area. Due to the population density in the camps, it is very difficult to tackle the security situation effectively. The law enforcement forces are continuing their operations to apprehend the terrorists in the camps. More than 20,000 workers from more than 100 organizations are working in various types of humanitarian services in the Rohingya camps. As the situation worsens day by day, these NGO workers are worried and many of them are suffering from insecurity. Some NGOs have restricted their activities in the camps and some of them are stopping their work, which is alarming. This deteriorating situation of the Rohingya camps will have impact on the overall security situation of Bangladesh in the coming days.
In an effort to curb terrorist activity, stop environmental damage, and ease strain on the camps in Cox’s Bazar, the government of Bangladesh is moving Rohingyas to the Bhasanchar Island. About 40,000 Rohingyas have been relocated to Bhasanchar so far, with plans to accommodate a total of 100,000 Rohingyas there. Shifting of Rohingyas from Cox’s Bazar to Bhasanchar is expensive and it is difficult for Bangladesh alone to bear this cost. Another 200000 Rohingyas can be relocated to Bhasanchar by building new camps in the vacant areas of Bhasanchar. Relocation of more Rohingyas there will ease the pressure from the camps of Cox’s Bazar and enhance the safety and security of the Rohingyas. The Bangladesh government has asked friendly countries and international organizations to help transport the Rohingyas from Cox’s Bazar to Bhasanchar and to build new infrastructure for the Rohingyas there. If the friendly countries come forward to solve this problem, it is expected that the situation in the camp will improve.
Rohingya crisis is becoming a protracted one. To tackle this, measures should be taken for emergency situation by building up reserves on an urgent basis to ensure uninterrupted relief and financial aid.
It is imperative to undertake measures to guarantee the continuation of the current pilot project started with the initiative of China. By creating a safe zone and stable situation in Rakhine this process can continue.
Establishing a genuine and trustworthy atmosphere with the Myanmar government, military, Buddhist monks, people, and political parties in Rakhine is essential to expediting and continuing the repatriation of the Rohingyas. In order to do this, the international community, the UN, NUG, AA, and organizations that promote the rights of Rohingyas should act fast.
The United States should move quickly to put its initiative to improve the technical training and skill set of the Rohingyas living in the camps into action. It is expected that the crime rate among the Rohingyas would decrease if this effort continues.
In order to curb the overall crime in the camps, the population density needs to be reduced. Zero tolerance should be declared against drug and other terrorist activities. More number to Rohingyas should be relocated to Bhasanchar. International community and donors should come forward to augment the initiative of Bangladesh government by constructing necessary infrastructure and relocating the Rohingyas there.
Bangladesh is under strain in many ways as a result of the Rohingya situation. Bangladesh expects that in order to resolve this ongoing issue and expedite the repatriation process, the UN, donor states, humanitarian organizations, forums, and groups advocating for the rights of Rohingya people would all play a significant role. All the stakeholders should be vigilant so that this problem does not lose its importance in the ongoing unstable and conflicting situation around the world. It is hoped that in 2024, the solution to this crisis will see the light of hope through effective and constructive measures.