The Rohingyas have been facing double edged set back as to their future both in Bangladesh and Myanmar. As minority community, they are the most vulnerable and oppressed section of people in the world but seemingly there is no headway to resolve the persisting humanitarian crisis in a sustainable manner. Undoubtedly, concerted global efforts amid a compromised deal between these two neighbouring countries can show a beacon of hope for the Rohingyas and their future generations.
The mass exodus of around 1.4 million Rohingyas from Myanmar to Bangladesh ranging from 1978 to 2017 has generated multifarious ramifications in the socio-economic landscape of the host country. Even after a long time, the prospects of repatriation as a sustainable solution to the crisis remain dim, although Bangladesh is still hopeful about the process with the assistance of the word community.
At present, around 1.4 million Rohingyas live in Bangladesh. Out of 1.4 million, most of them reside in two official camps in Cox’s Bazar district and only a small amount of them has been shifted to Bhasan Char Island of Noakhali district.
Among the Rohingyas, more than one million thronged into the country in 2017 while the rest came after two major incursions in 1978 and during 1991-1992 to escape Myanmar government backed planned atrocities, genocide and ethnic cleansing. On the other hand, Myanmar has now only around 6 hundred thousand of them living in Rakhine state.
It is mentionable that around 5 hundred thousand Rohingyas live in Pakistan, nearly two hundred thousand live in Saudi Arabia, one and a half hundred thousand live in Malaysia, approximately 50,000 live in UAE, roughly 40,000 live in India, and other 25,000 of them live in rest of the world.
Even after the independence of Myanmar in 1948, the Rohingyas have faced a series of untold discrimination and repression for decades under successive Myanmar governments. The promulgation of the Citizenship Act of 1982 escalated the onslaught on them as they were deprived of citizenship under the draconian law. Surprisingly, the perverted law allowed citizenship to 135 sects except the ethnic minority Rohingyas rendering most of them stateless. In reality, before independence they faced less hurdles.
However, the debate of origin of the Rohingyas is unabated as both the states are engaged in blame game. In fact, the Rohingyas as an ethnic minority group, the majority of whom as Muslim have been living in Buddhist dominated Myanmar’s western coastal state of Rakhine for centuries starting from the 12th century. However, a large number of labourers migrated (internal migration) from today’s India and Bangladesh during the British rule of 1834-1948 when Myanmar was administered as a province of greater India.
In fact, Myanmar is bordered by China, India, Thailand, and Laos, and Bangladesh but during the government sponsored crackdown in several times on the Rohingyas, Bangladeshi government extended helping hands to them while others strictly closed their borders triggering humanitarian crisis.
Nobel laureate politician and the chairperson of the Myanmar’s National League for Democracy (NLD), Aung San Suu Kyi silently supported the persecution of the Rohingyas by the government agencies in 2017 for gaining political dividends. Being a caravan for human rights and democracy, she was inactive for taming the crisis and disinterested in streamlining the process of repatriation before the military coup on 1 February 2021. Eventually, she was arrested and imprisoned as an irony of political fate.
With only around 55 million population, Myanmar is five times bigger than Bangladesh which have more than 170 million population and it is the 8th most populated state in the globe ranking 92nd in terms of land area. According to latest data, around 50 million population of Bangladesh are now under the poverty line which estimates that approximately 38 percent people of Bangladesh is under the gridlock of poverty. The situation is worse in Myanmar with over 25 million people is now below the poverty line that is around 46 percent of their population.
The standard of living of Rohingyas in the camps of Bangladesh is deplorable. They are not given Refugee status rather they are stateless. The world communities including the donor organisations have been funding for their livelihoods but they are lacking civil amenities and even deprived of basic human rights including the right to education and work. The recent restrictions on them by Bangladesh government on their livelihoods, movement, and on education of more than 4 lakh school aged Rohingya children (4 to 14 years of age) have added like insult to injury to their sufferings.
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asian director at Human Rights Watch recently opined that Bangladesh is understandably burdened with hosting more than one million Rohingyas, but she expressed concerns on putting restrictions on them by the government adding that cutting them off from opportunities to study and work will expand their vulnerability and dependency on foreign aids.
Diplomatically, Bangladesh is lagging behind to draw the attention of the powerful world communities including the United Nations to resolve the crisis peacefully. Even the powerful state leaders of the USA, EU, UK, Middle East, ASEAN, China, Russia, India, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Japan, and South Korea are divided to support Bangladesh and Myanmar fostering no headway to the crisis rather the issue has been transformed into a paradox now.
Approximately US $1 billion humanitarian assistance fund is required for the maintenance of the Rohingyas in Bangladesh and the fund is mostly coming from donor agencies and rich countries. The role of the United Nations High Commissioners for Refugees (UNHCR) and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) along with 136 local and international partners is laudable for ameliorating the sufferings of the Rohingyas in Bangladesh for a long time.
Bangladesh being not a ratifying member state to the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951 and its related Protocol, 1967 has shown utmost respect to the norms of international refugee law on humanitarian grounds but it is unable to share the present burden of Rohingyas due to geographical, socio-economic and security reasons. On the contrary, Myanmar as also a non-member state of these two international refugee law instruments, has shown blind eye in carrying out crackdown on the Rohingyas. But as a member of the UN, Myanmar should respect international norms in minority protection.
As the Rohingyas, an ethnic minority community are facing the threat of existence, the regional and global initiatives in line with the bilateral deals between Bangladesh and Myanmar can open the way for a sustainable solution to the crisis of the downtrodden section of people who are not only deprived of basic human rights but also leadership to raise their voice. Though the problem is created by Myanmar, their government is not cooperating with the counterpart of Bangladesh in resolving the issue.
Truth be told, there are 3R mechanisms for the sustainable solution to the crisis of the Rohingyas from the part of Bangladesh. These 3R apparatuses are repatriation, reintegration, and resettlement and among these, repatriation is the most appropriate one considering the complexities of other two ways.
Nevertheless, the rich Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, and Kuwait may extend helping hands in taking a big portion of the Rohingyas to ease the burden of Bangladesh. Similarly, the wealthy European countries like the UK, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Austria, and Italy can take substantial portion of the Rohingyas to meet their crisis of migrant workers. Geographically big countries like the U.S and Canada have huge scope to share a large number of the Rohingyas from here.
In a five-day official visit to Bangladesh during 21 to 25 May 2022, the Boss of the UNHCR Filippo Grandi urged the other neighbouring South Asian countries to share the burden of the Rohingyas rather than creating extra burden on Bangladesh. Referring the repatriation of the subjugated Rohingyas, he uttered that most Rohingyas he met in the camps desired to return back to Myanmar subject to the assurance of their all-citizenship rights amid guarantee of further non-violence to them.
At present, the process of repatriation is in stagnated situation rising the frustration of the community and Bangladesh as well. Interestingly, Myanmar is not eager to foster the repatriation process and most Rohingyas are not interested to return to Myanmar until assurance of citizenship and security ending the chance for recurrence of violence along with the institutionalized discrimination and systematic persecutions.
Because of the uncertainty and frustration on the prolonged process of repatriation, the Rohingyas are often engage in various forms of criminal activities inside the camps and its adjacent areas. Moreover, they are a massive threat in creating a demographic imbalance in the Cox’s Bazar area as the birth rate in the Rohingya camps is around 3.77 percent which is more or less double compared to the host country.
Considering practicality, around 35,000 babies born each year in the Rohingya camps are also facing the crisis of malnutrition and have no future. Over the years, the extension of the Rohingya camps have caused widespread environmental degradation to the area. Day by day, the Rohingyas are turning into a security concern for Bangladesh and the security implications can extend in other South Asian countries.
So, the international community especially the UNHCR, IOM, and the powerful Western and Eastern countries should come forward in putting pressure on Myanmar to take back the Rohingyas through a process of repatriation paving the way for a respite for Bangladesh as the tiny country is overburdened with an unbearable responsibility. A creative and robust diplomatic effort from part of Bangladesh can foment and foster the conscience of the global community to take positive steps towards repatriation in ameliorating the persisting Rohingya crisis.
About Author: Emdadul Haque is an Independent Human Rights Researcher and Freelance Contributor based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Previously, he served academia for more than a decade and lastly as an Assistant Professor of Law at Southeast University. He holds Bachelor of Laws and Master of Laws from Rajshahi University. He can be reached via email: [email protected] and on Twitter: @emdadlaw