Bangladesh is hosting the 1.1 million Rohingyas for more than five years. Despite the support from all corners till now the repatriation process has not yet started. The situation in the Rakhine state of Myanmar is not conducive for the repatriation of the Rohingyas. Regional countries and international community failed to play visible and effective role in resolving Rohingya crisis for last five years. Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a repatriation deal on 23 November 2017.
After that two repatriation attempts, on 15 November 2018 and 22 August 2019 failed without any success. Due to this uncertainty and delay Rohingyas are losing their patience and becoming frustrated. They are now involved in various types of crime, drug trafficking, terrorist activities, murder, abduction, human trafficking and creating law and order situation inside and outside the camps. As a result, the overall socio-economic situation and security of Bangladesh is under threat and this may spread to the regions in future.
Bangladesh has to face environmental disaster to handle this pressure of Rohingyas. The total loss of forest resources and biodiversity destroyed by the Rohingya population is estimated to be around 2000 crore takas. This environmental risk will continue to increase if repatriation is delayed (Bangla tribune, May 12, 2022). If the Rohingya crisis continues for a long time, the possibility of involvement of this displaced population in extremism, terrorism and cross-border crime will increase, resulting in security risk for Bangladesh, Myanmar and the region. If Rohingya repatriation was ensured quickly, Bangladesh would not have to face such a crisis.
Rohingyas issue is becoming a protracted one as the immediate solution for the Rohingya crisis is not visible yet. Total 936,733 Rohingyas staying in the camps are reliant on humanitarian assistance to meet their everyday needs (Dhaka Tribune, August 23, 2022). Response to Rohingya crisis by the regional countries has been far from sufficient and as a result the solution to this crisis is in stalemate. Regional countries like India, China, Japan and ASEAN countries failed to create effective pressure on Myanmar to start the repatriation process. Role of regional power like India and China could not contribute significantly for solving this crisis. Role of ASEAN is also far from sufficient. Myanmar’s geographical location places it at an important cross road that covers both South Asia and South East Asia (Malik, 2016). Myanmar is successfully using these advantages in her favour and delaying the repatriation of Rohingyas.
On January 19, 2021, Bangladesh-Myanmar held a tripartite meeting with the mediation of China. After that, meeting of the Joint Working Group on Rohingya Repatriation was held in May 2019. In February 2021 military government came to power in Myanmar and no further talks were held between the two countries for last one year and a half. On June 14, 2022, Bangladesh and Myanmar held a bilateral meeting on Rohingya repatriation. Along with that, a working group meeting was held after three years (Dhaka Post, June 14, 2022). In those meetings Myanmar has expressed interest in repatriation. Myanmar is also willing to take assistance from ASEAN and the UN for repatriation (Dhaka Post, June 15, 2022).
Role of Regional Countries
China is willing to support Bangladesh and Myanmar for finding out a viable solution to the crisis (Lee, 2017). China and Bangladesh have the same opinion on solving the crisis and that is the return of the Rohingyas to Myanmar (Haque, 2019). “We expect goodwill of the Chinese government and the President so that the displaced Rohingyas can go back,” (Hasina, 2019). Bangladesh and China is working trilaterally to address this issue but no positive results have been achieved so far. On August 6, 2022, China’s State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Bangladesh and said that China is working sincerely to find a solution to the Rohingya crisis (Naya Diganta, August 7, 2022). Bangladesh seeks China’s cooperation for a stronger role in the Rohingya crisis and a political solution to ensure their repatriation (NEWAGE, Mar 15, 2022).
India expressed her concern regarding the humanitarian and security implications of Rohingya crisis. Indian Government requested the world community to extend their support to deal with the crisis. There are approximately 40,000 Rohingyas in India. India has been calling the Rohingyas as ‘illegal immigrants’ and ‘threat to national security’ for a long time (Naya Diganta, August 17, 2022). Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised on the safe, sustainable and quick return of Rohingyas from Bangladesh to their homes in Myanmar. Neighbouring countries of Myanmar should take initiatives to resolve the crisis through assisting the repatriation of the Rohingyas to Myanmar for the sake of regional security and stability (Dhaka Post, May 29, 2022).
The Japanese government will provide an additional $9 million in aid to Bangladesh through the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) and the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM) (Jugantor, February 8, 2022). Since the beginning of the Rohingya crisis in August 2017, Japan has provided around 170 million dollars in aid (Japan Embassy in Bangladesh, March 2, 2022). Bangladesh calls on the ASEAN Special Envoy on Myanmar to continue to engage with ASEAN member states and other countries in the region for a lasting political solution to the protracted Rohingya crisis (Dhaka Post, June14, 2022). Bangladesh has informed ASEAN about the issue and has also discussed the matter with Japan. Bangladesh is trying to change the attitude of the common people of Myanmar and resolve the existing problems diplomatically (Dhaka Post, June 8, 2022). The Bangladesh government has called on Indonesia and ASEAN to play a more active role in facilitating the speedy repatriation of the displaced Rohingya who have taken refuge in Bangladesh on humanitarian grounds (Jagonews24dotcom, July 5, 2022). Prak Sokhonn, after assuming the chairmanship of ASEAN and being appointed as the ASEAN Chair’s Special Envoy to Myanmar, has assured Bangladesh of making all-out efforts for a sustainable solution to the Rohingya issue (Jagonews24, January 19, 2022).
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina urged ASEAN countries to come forward for the safe repatriation of the Rohingyas in her message to the 27th International Nikkei Conference. Prime minister also insisted everyone to contribute in finding an acceptable solution to this crisis and to repatriate the Rohingyas to their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine State with safety, security and dignity. With the initiative of Bangladesh, from the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) member states the resolution entitled ‘Human Rights Situation of Rohingya Muslims and Other Minorities in Myanmar’ was adopted at the 50th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on 7 July 2022. This was initiated to resolve the on-going crisis and swift repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar by ensuring accountability and justice. The resolution commended the Bangladesh government for providing shelter to the Rohingyas displaced by the Myanmar military and called for continued humanitarian assistance from the international community until they return to Myanmar (Samakal, July 8,2022). The Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the UN has requested the UN to increase the program in Rakhine to assist the repatriation of the Rohingyas. On June 13, the Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Myanmar Affairs at the UN General Assembly, Noeleen Heyzer is requested to work towards speedy implementation of the bilateral repatriation system. To ensure justice to the Rohingyas and preventing future recurrence of the incident, all countries, especially the regional countries are called upon to cooperate in on-going activities.
Discussion on Rohingya repatriation with Myanmar by UN is going on. The UN refugee agency UNHCR and UNDP are working on community projects in Rakhine through a tripartite agreement with Myanmar. More aid and assistance are needed to create a fair, safe and sustainable environment there (Dhaka Post, May 25, 2022). Many regional countries have significant contributions to Myanmar’s economy. Their investments and on-going trade cooperation are protecting Myanmar from blockades and pressures from the Western world. China is the largest trading partner and foreign investor of Myanmar. Myanmar received $516.4 million from one Japanese firm, a combined $442.2 million from four Singaporean investments, $75.5 million from two Thai ventures, $66.1 million from five South Korean businesses and $ 60.09 million from seven Hong Kong firms (Thailand Business News, Jan 27, 2022). Despite ongoing crisis in Myanmar for the financial support of these countries the government is not reacting on international pressure. Regional countries like, China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Thailand and India can play an important role in providing financial and humanitarian aid for on-going Rohingya crisis. ASEAN countries can take a stronger role in repatriating the Rohingyas and dealing with the on-going humanitarian crisis as Myanmar needs to maintain good relations with these countries for her business interests (Shamsuddin, 2022).
Following a military coup in Myanmar, the country’s opposition parties, including the NLD, formed the National Unity Government (NUG) on 16 April 2021. The policy announced by the NUG on June 3, 2021 regarding the Rohingya has made several commitments. The announcement includes a pledge to repeal the Citizenship Act of 1982 which deprived the Rohingya of their rights. This is a very important step taken by the NUG. Most important here is the recognition of ‘Rohingya’ identity. The announcement by the NUG has also created optimism among the groups active in Myanmar’s Rohingya rights and is seen by the international community as a positive step.
CHALLENGES AND OPTIONS
Hatred against Rohingyas
For long time Myanmar authority propagated communal hatred and Islam phobia against the Rohingyas. This had tremendous impact on Myanmar and Rakhine societies. It will take some time to bring back normalcy and acceptance of Rohingyas by the people of Myanmar and Rakhine state. To reverse that, till now no effort was taken by the authority.
This problem must be solved in consultation with leaders of the Rakhine and Rohingya communities. Rakhine and Rohingya people have lived together in harmony for long time. Rather than making decisions on their behalf, international community and humanitarian agencies should consult with Rakhine politicians and Rohingya community leaders, and take actions step by step (The Irrawaddy, 23 November 2019). Effort should be taken by the Regional countries to involve singers, poets, civil society members and cultural teams so that they take initiative and can speak up in favour of Rohingyas. Regional countries must come forward with appropriate plan to address the crisis.
On-going Global Crisis
The world is struggling with inflation, high food prices and fuel crisis due to war in Ukraine, Afghanistan and multiple humanitarian crises. Bangladesh must make a concerted effort to maintain global attention and support by highlighting the needs of the Rohingyas. The executive director of the World Food Program (WFP) has expressed concern that relief aid is being squeezed in parts of the world due to insufficient funding (Jugantor, June 20, 2022). The war in Ukraine has significantly increased the global refugee crisis and the risk of famine. The conflict has caused additional refugees around the world which in turn created pressure on aid and humanitarian support.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi believes that the on-going situation may lead to a ‘crisis’ of funds for the Rohingyas. Rohingyas in Bangladesh are completely dependent on humanitarian aid. Amid the crisis in Afghanistan and Ukraine, the biggest challenge is not to lose the world’s attention to the Rohingyas. This may put pressure on political and financial support for humanitarian activities of the Rohingyas in Bangladesh and may significantly reduce the aid in future. High Commissioner expressed that ASEAN and regional countries should play a significant role in solving the Rohingya crisis and stressed the continuation of ongoing humanitarian assistance for the Rohingyas (Bangla Tribune, May 25, 2022). UNHCR’s representative in Bangladesh appealed for solidarity and continued support for Rohingyas, citing the need for international solidarity towards Bangladesh and the Rohingyas (Prothom Alo, June 20, 2022).
From 2017 to August 2022 aid received from the donors for Rohingya crisis (The Daily star, August 25, 2022). Year wise amount are shown in the graph:
It shows that the humanitarian fund state is declining over the years which are alarming. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet acknowledged the role of Bangladesh in mitigating the sufferings of the Rohingyas. She urged the international community to continue their support to Bangladesh in its response and press Myanmar to create condition for return, address the root causes and pursuit accountability (Bachelet, 2022). The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has announced that it will continue to support the development of the Rohingyas in Bangladesh and declared a new grant of 7.1 billion US dollars for the Rohingyas. The World Bank has announced that it will give an equivalent amount of Tk 255 crore as a grant for food assistance to the Rohingyas in Teknaf and Ukhia (Dhaka Post, June 6, 2022).
ICJ and Rohingya Issue
Gambia filed a case in the International Court of Justice on November 11, 2019 calling this atrocity genocide, and requested for urgent measures to stop the genocide by Myanmar army until the investigation begins. Following the Gambia’s application, the ICJ issued provisional measures against Myanmar to prevent any genocide acts in its territory against the Rohingyas and to protect them. It also asked Myanmar to submit periodical reports to the court on all measures taken to give effect to this order, until a final decision on the case is rendered by the court (Kamal, 2022). Myanmar filed her preliminary objections to the case on 20 January 2021 instead of the reply, thereby suspending the original case. On 21 February 2022, hearings on Myanmar’s preliminary objections began; finally on July 22 the court rejected all four preliminary objections raised by Myanmar. According to the judgment, there is no further problem with the prosecution of this case. The arguments of the Myanmar government have been weakened as NUG withdrew the objection given earlier.
The Ukraine refugee crisis and global instability may reduce the international community’s attention, financial aid and humanitarian efforts for the Rohingya. Due to prolonged stay in camps and uncertainty of repatriation, the Rohingyas are becoming frustrated and getting involved in various types of terrorist activities. This unemployed population is getting involved in various illegal and subversive activities under the influence of terrorist networks and this trend is increasing day by day. Sabotage and terrorist activities organized in Rohingya camps may pose a threat to regional security once they get out of control (Shamsuddin, 2022). An escalation of violence in Myanmar could disrupt Bangladesh’s security and stability in many ways. Bangladesh deserves appreciation for skilful control of this situation by not allowing it to become a regional security threat.
International community and the regional countries are supporting the worst humanitarian crisis happened with the Rohingyas. Bangladesh wants to solve the Rohingya issue through discussion and amicably settle that with Myanmar.
China, Japan, ASEAN and other regional countries can exert pressure on Myanmar and resolve the longstanding issue. Regional countries can address the humanitarian crisis and contribute in terms of humanitarian aid and support. ASEAN countries have a responsibility to convince Myanmar politically for the repatriation of the Rohingyas as quickly as possible
The UNHCR insisted Myanmar to find out the root cause of this conflict and take necessary measures to create conditions for safe return of Rohingyas to Myanmar. The UNHCR also urged the regional countries to come forward to address the humanitarian support as well as convince Myanmar government to resolve the crisis. Bangladesh wants a sustainable solution so that the Rohingyas can go back to Myanmar voluntarily and with dignity as a citizen of Myanmar.
ASEAN and Regional countries have not taken any effective steps in psychological, political, economic and social sectors to take back the Rohingyas to Myanmar. Implementation of the recommendations of the Kofi Annan Commission did not take place to improve the quality of life and socioeconomic conditions of the people of Rakhine. There is no visible progress in political will, social acceptability and economic development of Rakhine to solve the Rohingya crisis. Communal hatred and Islam phobia has been spread gradually by interested group to oust the Rohingyas from Rakhine. Buddhist majority countries such as Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka can play an important role in the repatriation of Rohingyas by softening the attitude of the Buddhist organizations in Myanmar to bring back the acceptance and tolerant attitude towards the Rohingyas.
Bangladesh with the support of the International community is trying her best to meet the challenges of Rohingyas crisis. A permanent solution need to be found out for resolving this crisis once for all. If the funding is reduced or stopped, then there will be disaster for these people and Bangladesh will also suffer. Following recommendations are made to expedite the repatriation process by taking the support of Regional countries to end the crisis:
China is one of the top investors in Myanmar. All-out effort should be taken by Bangladesh to take China on board for solving this crisis. Japan, ASEAN and other regional countries are contributing significantly in Myanmar economy. Support of these countries should also be utilized for solving the crisis. Despite their economic interest in Myanmar, regional countries should create pressure on Myanmar authority to expedite the repatriation of the Rohingyas.
From the existing trend, it may be assumed that the crisis will be protracted. Bangladesh should take adequate measure to ensure uninterrupted humanitarian aid and support with the help of regional countries and international community. Rohingya crisis must not be allowed to be forgotten due to on-going unstable global situation. Bangladesh should take all-out effort to keep this issue alive till the end.
Regional countries and international community should support Myanmar to implement the Kofi Annan commission recommendation for the development of Rakhine state.
The international community and donor agencies must empower the Rohingyas by providing them with the necessary education and training for future employment and up skilling to integrate them into the mainstream of Myanmar.
Efforts should be taken to change the attitude of the people of Myanmar to increase the acceptance of Rohingyas through international organizations, UN, Rohingya migrant organizations, NLD and representatives of Arakan Army. Regional countries should play an important role in solving this crisis by increasing humanitarian, political and financial cooperation.
Initiatives should be taken to increase the acceptance of the Rohingyas through friendly Buddhist countries to change the behaviour of the radical Buddhist organizations and abandon the hate campaign against the Rohingyas.
In order to stop the internal conflict in Myanmar, the regional countries should take initiatives and accelerate the repatriation process by creating a suitable situation in Rakhine State. Rohingyas can be relocated to any third country under the initiative of the United Nations and the International Refugee Organization.
In the current unstable global situation, existing Rohingya crisis poses a threat to stability and regional security. All-out effort should be taken by the regional countries and world community to resolve this crisis as early as possible.
Ahmed, Imtiaz, (2014), The Plight of the Stateless Rohingyas, The University Press Limited, Dhaka.
Ibrahim, Azeem (2016), The Rohingyas Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide, Hurst and Company, London.
Latheef Farook(2017), The Genocide of Rohingya Minorities, Ravaya Publishers, Maharagama, Srilanka.
Malik Preet (2016), My Myanmar Years, SAGE Publications India Private Limited, New Delhi.
Popham, Peter (2016), The lady and the Generals, Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s Struggle for Freedom, Rider, London.
Roy, Dr. D.N (2018), Myanmar and Rohingya Muslim Crisis, Prashant Publishing House, Delhi, 2018.
Wade, Francis (2017), Myanmar’s Enemy Within, Zed Books Limited, Croydon.
Periodicals/Daily News Papers/ Magazines
ADB donates Tk 653 crore for Rohingyas, Jagonews24.com, June 22, 2022.
Agreement on disaster management and WFP in support of Rohingya, Dhaka Post, June 6, 2022.
Bangladesh wants India’s mediation to send back Rohingyas, Dhaka Post, May 29, 2022.
Bangladesh wants to return a group of Rohingyas, Dhaka Post, June 15, 2022.
Haque, Shahidul, China agrees on quick solution to Rohingya crisis, Daily Sun, July 6, 2019.
How Should Myanmar Handle Prosecution at the ICJ Over the Rohingya Issue?, The Irrawaddy, November 23, 2019.
Hasan Md Shamsuddin, Five years of the Rohingya crisis – current context and what needs to be done, Jagonews24.com, August 25, 2022.
High Commissioner Filippo sees ‘concern’ about Rohingya funds, Dhaka Post, May 25, 2022.
‘India will give shelter to Rohingyas’, Daily Nayadiganta, August 17, 2022.
Japan and WFP Support Food Security of “Rohingya” and Agricultural Development of Host Communities in Bangladesh, Embassy of Japan in Bangladesh, March 2, 2022.
Japan will give another 9 million dollars to Bangladesh, Jugantor, February 8, 2022.
Johannes von der Klaue, Solidarity with refugees: everyone, everywhere, all the time, Prothom Alo, June 20,2022.
Kamal Ahmed, “ICJ ruling takes Rohingyas one step closer to justice”, The Daily Star, July 25, 2022.
Monira Nazmi Jahan, “How much will the Rohingya burden”?, Bangla Tribune, May 12, 2022.
Myanmar Government Approved USD 3.82 Billion in Foreign Investment and USD 651 Million in Domestic Investment in First Year of State Administration Council, Thailand Business News, Jan 27, 2022.
Myanmar’s Rohingyas: Five years of crisis, Dhaka Tribune, August 23, 2022.
Myanmar under pressure, advice to seize the opportunity politically, Dhaka Post, June 8, 2022.
Political solution key to Rohingya repatriation: ICRC, NEWAGE, Mar 15, 2022.
Rohingya repatriation resolution adopted at the United Nations, Samakal, July8, 2022.
The importance of the signing of PTA with Indonesia by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jagonews24.com, July 5, 2022.
The United Nations is reducing relief due to shortages, Jugantor, June 20, 2022.
UN Rights chief Bachelet’s visit to Bangladesh, Khalid Saifullah, The Daily New Nation, August 23, 2022.
Urged UN to increase repatriation program in Rakhine, Dhaka Post, June14, 2022.
We are working sincerely to solve the Rohingya crisis: Chinese Foreign Minister, Daily Naya Diganta, August 7, 2022.
Yimou Lee, China draws three-stage path for Myanmar, Bangladesh to resolve Rohingya Crisis, Reuters, November 20, 2017.
Interview with Professor Dr. Delwar Hossain, Department of International Relations, Dhaka University, dated July 18, 2022.
Interview with Professor Dr. Milton Biswas, Jogonnath University, dated June 30, 2022.
Brigadier General (Retd) Hasan Md Shamsuddin, ndc, afwc, psc, MPhil, Lead Researcher on Myanmar, Rohingya and ASEAN affairs, The Centre for Bangladesh and Global Affairs. Dhaka, Bangladesh.