Rohingya Crisis

Is it Bangladesh’s burden alone?

Dilara Choudhury | Published: 00:00, Nov 05,2019 | Updated: 00:36, Nov 05,2019


IS THE burden of hosting 1.2 million Rohingya refugees, who fled their country of origin, Myanmar, after being subjected to its security forces’ genocidal activities, Bangladesh’s alone if the crisis is not resolved soon? Is Bangladesh capable of managing the multifarious needs of a huge refugee population including the potential security risk factor for the country as well as for the region? Certainly not. Rohingyas must return to their country of origin for the sake of humanitarianism as well as their historical claim as citizens and one of the ethnic groups of Myanmar recognised 135 ethnic entities. And the world must pressurise Myanmar to create a conducive environment so that they can return with security, citizenship, identity and livelihood. But the developments in Myanmar and the response of International Community and those of Bangladesh’s close neighbours, India and China, indicate otherwise.

Initially, Bangladesh tried to solve the issue bilaterally and at China’s behest, Dhaka’s bilateral attempts, even to begin the repatriation of Rohingyas under the Physical Arrangement Treaty of 2017, failed twice. These attempts only provided Myanmar a civil face and an opportunity to put the blame squarely on Bangladesh. This ‘claim’ has been communicated to the 74th UN General Assembly by Naypadaw stating that it has done all that is needed to create an environment to ‘welcome’ them home and Dhaka has been blamed for repatriation failure. Whereas according to high ranking journalists, who were invited by Myanmar government to evaluate the existing situation on the ground, and the report of UN Human Rights reporter, Yang Lee, a defiant Myanmar is still doing everything possible to erase Rohingyas’ presence in northern Rakhine state by intimidating the remaining 600,000 Rohingyas, and grabbing their land and building government and security infrastructures on it.  It is assumed that most likely Myanmar would put them in concentration camp like facilities guarded by Myanmar’s security forces with genocidal history. The observers also paint a gloomy picture of the shelters Myanmar has erected for the potential returnee Rohingyas. No wonder the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are afraid that the same fate awaits them if they return. No effective results have been accrued, when Bangladesh, though belatedly, internationalised the issue due to Myanmar’s intransience and China’s role at the UNSC. 

Myanmar’s defiant stance entails from two factors. First, the European Union and the United States as well as Japan, countries whose linchpin of foreign policies have been to uphold human rights worldwide, are dragging their feet and have resorted more to rhetorics than actions. Instead of a comprehensive arms embargo against Myanmar, which would have hit its notorious military directly, both of them have imposed limited arms embargo such as banning weapons which could be used for repression, and restricting travel by and freezing of assets of a few identified generals responsible for planning and executing ‘operation clearance’ to eliminate the Rohingya population. And that the United Sates has dropped its joint military exercises with Naypadaw is no consolation either. These actions are only peanuts compared to the crimes Myanmar has committed and the punishment it deserves. In the same token no one will take the resolution adopted in the European Parliament, a few days after the second repatriation attempt failed, urging the UNSC to impose sanctions against Myanmar, seriously in the context of the friends of Myanmar — Russia and China’s veto power in the UNSC.

Interestingly, none of them (the EU and United States) has withdrawn their preferential treatment for Myanmar’s booming Apparel Industries on the pretext that such punitive actions would hurt only the civilian population. In this regard, the EU turning a blind eye to Myanmar while still having EBA, which insists on upholding human rights for countries’ pre-condition to enter its market, is indeed incomprehensible. Japan, ‘leader of liberal order in Asia’, also has embraced Myanmar for cold calculation of business opportunities and strategic reasons and voted against any Rohingya related resolutions in the UN. Keeping in line with Myanmar, Japan feels more comfortable identifying these genocide victims as ‘Muslims in Rakhine State’ rather than ‘Rohingyas.’  Disregard of these liberal values may be linked with the great powers’ politics surrounding the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal, but such policy formulation may eventually hurt democracies and protection of human rights all over the world and certainly will not help in solving the Rohingya problem.     

More importantly, Myanmar’s political-economic-strategic alliance with India, China and Russia protects its interest internationally, especially from any punitive action by the UNSC with the veto power that China and Russia possess.

Due to this unsavvy real politik tendency of the present world order, Bangladesh could not even get any moral support from its close friend and ally, India, which has been espousing its humanitarian and Ghandian values for so long. It, too, has deviated from its centuries old moral high ground by siding with Myanmar and terming the victims of genocide as ‘Islamic terrorists.’ China’s support for the culprit, evidenced by its action in the UNSC, has been equally unequivocal and should be a surprise to none.  Thanks to strategic factors and plausibly an impending US-China friction over the domination of India also brought Russia into the fray and, needless to say, on Naypadaw’s side and made it possible for Myanmar to have a free ride. However, as long as China remains steadfast in supporting Myanmar, substantial punishment to pressurise it is not forthcoming including any hope of sending the Rohingya genocide case to the ICC or ICJ.  

In conclusion, it transpires that hopes pinned on prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s politicking at the 74th UN General Assembly have been dashed to the ground as Myanmar rejects the premier’s most concrete point out of her four point proposal at the UNGA, which would have solved the problem entirely. With Myanmar’s arrogant attitude entailing, as mentioned earlier, from the ‘more rhetoric than action’ attitude of the international community and the support from regional powerful countries, Dhaka has been left high and dry. And in the long view, a prolonged stay of the Rohingyas is apprehended and already suggestions are pouring in from different agencies and observers as how to help Bangladesh cope with this impossible task of managing the Rohingya refugee population on its own.

The question is why should the Rohingya crisis, which is a humanitarian crisis, be the burden of Bangladesh alone?


Dilara Choudhury is a political analyst

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