By Sufian Asif
Worldwide refugee crises have taken center stage in the news in recent years. According to the UNHCR report, there are currently 110 million refugees worldwide, compared to 100 million in 2022.
The report also said that the number of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) worldwide remained stable at 40 million for two decades until 2011, but this number has almost tripled due to the Syrian crisis in 2011 and various events in recent years. The re-establishment of Taliban rule in Afghanistan in 2021, the war in Ukraine in 2022, and finally the civil war in Sudan on April 15 this year have exacerbated the refugee crisis.
A refugee is a person or persons who have sought refuge from their own country to a neighboring or foreign country due to social or political discrimination and who fear loss of life or persecution upon returning to their country. They are called refugees in international law. Internationally, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) takes care of refugees in coordination with the concerned country or countries.
This year, on the occasion of the World Refugee Day (June 20), UNHCR head (High Commissioner) Filippo Grandi said the number of refugees around the world is increasing at an alarming rate. He expressed concern and said that violence among people is increasing. He lamented that we live in a polarized world where international tensions dismiss all humanitarian issues. There is a growing laxity among countries in following the principles of the 1951 Refugee Convention, even among many signatories to that convention.’
Currently, the number of displaced Myanmar nationals (Rohingya) residing in Cox’s Bazar and Noakhali in Bangladesh is said to be 9 lakh, but with the addition of 30,000 new births every year, this number will exceed 12 lakh in 2022. However, Bangladesh does not recognize these Rohingya as refugees and calls them Forcefully Displaced Myanmar Nationals (FDMN). Even though the Rohingya crisis that has been going on since 2017 has been going on for almost 6 years, it can be said without hesitation that there is no visible progress in resolving it, i.e., repatriation to Myanmar. At different times, the representatives of different countries and international organizations during their visits to Bangladesh have traditionally only heard the message of hope.
During a visit to Cox’s Bazar on March 30, Senior Vice President for US Development Daniel Runde said that the US is serious about solving the Rohingya problem. He said that the United States is working with the international community for a sustainable solution to the Rohingya problem. Meanwhile, in mid-April, an impromptu meeting on the Chinese-mediated repatriation of the Rohingya was held in Kunming, where officials from the foreign ministries of Bangladesh, Myanmar, and China participated.
A 27-member team, including 20 Rohingyas, visited Maungdaw in Myanmar’s Rakhine state on May 5 to boost the Rohingyas’ confidence and interest in repatriation. They visited various villages and transit centers in Maungdaw city and spoke to the Rohingyas there. From their reactions, it can be understood that all those hoping for repatriation are optimistic.
Meanwhile, as time goes on, there is increasing uncertainty about the continuation of humanitarian aid for the Rohingya. The reason for this is the prolongation of the Rohingya’s stay and the creation of new humanitarian crises around the world. Humanitarian services for the Rohingya are challenged to continue at the same level while providing funding for the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, the war in Ukraine, the floods in Pakistan, the earthquake in Turkey, the civil war in Sudan, the food crisis in Africa, etc.
The 2022 report of the United Nations Office in Dhaka, published on April 4, feared a financial crisis in 2023 with Rohingya aid. On June 1, the United Nations cut the per capita allocation for the Rohingya to $8 for the second time in a year, from $12 earlier this year. The UN said it had to take this step as funding sources for the Rohingya continued to dwindle. As of June 1, only 24 percent had been pledged against the UN’s $876 million aid appeal for 2023. On the other hand, it is not possible for Bangladesh to bear the pressure of more than 12 lakh Rohingya indefinitely.
Although the government has sheltered these Rohingyas for humanitarian reasons, there is practically no regional or international initiative to repatriate them. Although the government has been vocal about the Rohingya issue in bilateral discussions and various national and international forums, world leaders are not seen as active in solving the problem; rather, the matter is still limited to assurances. During the Prime Minister’s visit to Geneva last week, when UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi met him, the Prime Minister called for creating a favorable environment for the return of the Rohingyas to the country.
Grundy reiterated UNHCR’s support for Bangladesh on repatriation but acknowledged its limitations. Meanwhile, the joint working group (JWG) of Bangladesh and Myanmar on the issue of Rohingya repatriation was held in June 2022, after three years.
Most of the world’s refugee camps are long-term destinations for refugees, and their inhabitants are travelers on an uncertain path. Refugees in Bangladesh (Rohingya) have been living inhumane lives in confined spaces for a minimum of 6 years and a maximum of 30 years. Syrian refugees have been in Turkey and other countries for more than a decade. The Afghan refugee crisis in Pakistan and Iran has been ongoing since the 1990s.
During the post-Afghan war (2001–2002) that began after the 9-11 (2001) attacks by the United States, Afghan refugees took shelter in Pakistan, where 36 million refugees were already stayed since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1990s. Half of these refugees scattered across the world are children (under 18), who face an uncertain future without formal education.
According to international law, no refugee may be forced to return to their home country, where they are at risk of further persecution. In parallel, as a populous country, it is not possible for Bangladesh to shelter refugees or displaced Rohingyas staying in the country for a long period of time in accordance with international standards. Apart from this, due to the delay in their repatriation, various social disturbances are occurring frequently. Incidents of violence and conflict are frequent inside and outside the camps, which is alarming. In addition, Rohingyas often spread outside the camps, even to different parts of the country, and get involved in illegal activities.
We must not only sympathize with the plight of refugees. The forces that are creating this situation must be held accountable. Public opinion should be created in favor of refugees in the domestic and international arenas. The sooner the repatriation of Rohingyas is possible, the better for Rohingyas and their host countries. Sustainable repatriation through bilateral and international diplomatic efforts is the only solution to this crisis. So, the role of rich countries cannot be ignored; big countries must work earnestly to solve the refugee problem.