By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
The latest ISCG Report on Rohingya crisis mentions that there are 911,566 Rohingya Refugess in Cox Bazaar alone.
Of the refugees 73 percent are living in spontaneous settlements, 13 percent in Makeshift settlements, 9 percent in host communities and only 5 percent in formal refugee camps. They are confined to two narrow strips of districts of Teknaf and Ukhia. Many more have moved away from Bangladesh to India some as far away as Tamil Nadu!
The Dhaka Tribune of August 9th mentions that over 500,000 identity documents have been issued to the refugees.
While Sheikh Hasina was reluctant to accept the Rohingyas initially as it would give rise to a security problem, she had no choice but to accept them as Bangladesh happens to be the nearest neighbouring country and the Rohingyas have had historic cultural links with them.
In March 2019 Bangladesh, told the Security Council in the UN that it will not be able to accept any more refugees due to security reasons.
A million stateless refugees in the southern tip of the country is too big a security challenge already! The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, Haque once asked “Is Bangladesh paying a price for being responsive and responsible in sharing empathy to a persecuted minority population of a neighbouring country? This is true. Sheikh Hasina has gone out of the way to accommodate the hapless refugees without moving into a confrontational or aggressive stand with its neighbor Myanmar. There are voices within the Bangladesh establishment now that she had been too soft in the matter of repatriation of Rohingyan refugees back to Myanmar!
A detailed analysis of the Rohingyan refugee situation had appeared in Washington Post written by one Mayesh Ala.
The points made were
- Bangladesh has been unable to get international support to decisively end the crisis. This is not true. One can say that Bangladesh has not been aggressive enough to raise the international concerns, but this alone will not solve the crisis. There is of course international pressure. PM Hasina had directly talked to Xi Jin ping to intervene and put pressure on Myanmar which the latter had agreed . Japan had also offered to mediate and the Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono visited the camps in Cox Bazaar. The ICJ has already begun the proceedings to begin investigation into allegations of genocide. Its Prosecutor James Stewart, visited Bangladesh and Rohingya camps as part of preparations leading to trial for potential crimes against Rohingyas. The US has already denied entry to the top Army Generals for their alleged involvement in crisis. This pressure is seen to have worked to some extent as seen from the visit of a top delegation of Myanmar led by Foreign Secretary Myint Tha.
- The second major concern is the security challenges posed by such a large number of restless people. It is estimated that over 200,000 of the refugees would be young, unemployed people and easy prey to radicalization. The concern is that the ARSA cells which are already present in the camps would find it a great opportunity to recruit cadres.
- Third, is the fear of assimilation. Bangladesh has taken care to ensure that the Rohingyas are taught only English and Burmese and not Bengali! There is already a change in the demography of the two districts of Teknaf and Ukhia where the refugees outnumber the locals by 2 to 1. And the birth rate of the Rohingyan refugees is much higher than that of the local population. The refugees are also at the risk of trafficking, sex. drugs and labour, if it had not happened already!
- Then there is the impact on economy which at present is poised to grow at 7 percent or higher. Visit of Tourists has already stopped thus affecting the tourism industry and what one sees is the unending influx of NGOs representatives which perhaps gives some employment to the locals. The aid that comes does not cover all the costs of running the camps.
- There is also an environmental impact with forest being cleared for the camps and firewood being burnt by almost all house holds in the camps for cooking adding to pollution.
It is in this context that Bangladesh sees some softening of stand by Myanmar authorities in sending a 19-member delegation from Myanmar led by their Foreign Secretary Myint Tha.
The delegation visited the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazaar and made some conciliatory remarks. He said “We are ready to welcome them. We are considering giving them part citizenship”. This is seen by the Bangladesh authorities as a major departure from their earlier rigid stand!
An earlier agreement between the two countries to send the first batch of 2500 refugees from November 15 did not take off as the refugees had already formed a sort of trade union and were not willing to go unless there was a firm guarantee of full citizenship!
The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh thinks that that the offer of Myanmar as a major breakthrough while another analyst said that “Ice is melting”.
Considering the enormous number of refugees and the general reluctance of the Myanmar authorities to take back any of the refugees except a few under pressure, it is doubtful whether the crisis will ever be resolved in the near future.
The growing adolescent population with nothing to do is slowly but surely endangering the security and stability of Bangladesh. There is no doubt this. It is this aspect that needs to be attended to seriously not only by Bangladesh but by all other countries including other neighbouring countries who are willing to help in some way or other rather than focussing on the return of the refugees which is going to take a long long time!
There is also a danger of a creation of another “Palestine” in this part of the world which will have serious repercussions on the security dynamics of the entire south Asian region.