Stalled Rohingya return process speaks of Dhaka’s failures

Published: 00:00, Jan 08,2021


THE statement of the home minister that bilateral efforts with the Myanmar authorities have failed to bring about any results for the repatriation of the Rohingyas, who have fled violence by Myanmar’s security forces in Rakhine to Bangladesh in phases, comes with concern. The minister says that the diplomatic efforts include many meetings with the Myanmar government and a meeting with the top Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but the efforts have fallen flat as Myanmar authorities have talked about many issues but have done almost nothing. Although the Rohingyas started entering Bangladesh in the late 1970s, after the latest round of ‘security operations’ by Myanmar’s military in Rakhine, 860,000 Rohingyas — mostly children, women and elderly people — have fled to safety into Bangladesh since August 2017 to join many others having already lived here, taking the total number of Rohingyas in Bangladesh to more than 1.2 million, as estimates of UN agencies and the Bangladesh government show. The violence that Myanmar’s security forces inflicted on the Rohingyas in the latest spate was so grievous that the United Nations, soon after it had happened, called it ‘a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.’

The minister, who on Wednesday held a meeting of the recently launched ministerial-level national committee on the coordination of law and order and the management of Rohingya camps, says that the main task of the government now is to send the Rohingyas back to Myanmar at the earliest. Efforts to repatriate the Rohingyas since August 2017 have faltered twice — on August 22, 2019 and November 15, 2018 — mostly because Myanmar continued creating a fearful situation for the Rohingyas in Rakhine, with none living in Cox’s Bazar camps voluntarily turning up to accept the repatriation offer, citing a ‘lack of a congenial atmosphere’ in their homeland. The repatriation process has since then been left unattended for some time because of Myanmar, which resorted to various means such as a near discontinuation to the clearance for refugees to get back to their homeland. Bangladesh authorities in phases have handed Myanmar the list of about 600,00 Rohingyas for repatriation clearance, but Myanmar authorities have, as the Bangladesh foreign ministry says, cleared only 28,000 Rohingyas. While Myanmar, which faces charges in the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice for crimes it committed against the Rohingyas, is to blame for almost all of this, no progress in the repatriation process also speaks of deplorable diplomatic failures on part of Bangladesh. Bangladesh appears to have failed to impress on Myanmar, regional forums and the world community that the Rohingya issue is not only a crisis of the Rohingyas or Bangladesh but also an international crisis that the world community should attend to together.

Efforts of Bangladesh alone are highly unlikely to make the Rohingya repatriation happen. While bilateral efforts with Myanmar should be stepped up, Dhaka must also make a broad engagement at the diplomatic level, involving actors in the regional forums such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, and the United Nations, boldly and effectively to meaningfully attend to what is said to be the gravest humanitarian crisis.

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