POST TIME: 17 October, 2019 00:00 00 AM
Rohingya refugees: Issues of security, geo-politics and repatriation
Myanmar government has been very reluctant to take back their nationals despite the robust diplomatic endeavours of Bangladesh government regarding repatriation

Rohingya refugees: Issues of security, geo-politics and repatriation

The Rohingya is an ethnic minority group of Myanmar that has, due to persecution, crossed into neighbouring Bangladesh over decades, laying uneven pressure on the scarce resources of Bangladesh. Bangladesh is now hosting around one million Rohingya refugees and this highlights the serious concern of human security. Myanmar government has been very reluctant to take back their nationals despite the robust diplomatic endeavours of Bangladesh government regarding repatriation.

 Providing basic provisions of their life like food, shelter and healthcare have been the utmost priorities at the moment and also for the rest of the period until the return of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar. Rohingya refugees are seriously at the risk of human trafficking. Health security and food security are the evolving challenges in the makeshifts where refugees are living. Even there is the likelihood of more such incidences, aggravating the local social and cultural harmony among the local citizens and the Rohingya refugees.

Bangladesh is making every effort in a professional fashion to harness regional and global power to end this emerging crisis despite the China and India’s support for Myanmar on Rohingya issue. We have noticed both countries are having huge strategic and economic interest in Myanmar. Even Russia seems to be compassionate to Myanmar on this issue.

The reality suggests that Bangladesh government may not succeed in sending all of them back even in a single go with the utmost diplomatic role. Therefore, we may think of some long-term solutions to deal with this additional population in Bangladesh. Though Myanmar holds no major importance in Russian policy – no geopolitical interests are at stake there, while Moscow’s attitude to the issue in the UN could potentially upset its Muslim allies, for instance Iran. Unexpectedly, at least 1,300 Rohingya Muslims had crossed into Bangladesh from India since the beginning of this year as fears of deportation to Myanmar spark an exodus. New Delhi faced sharp criticism for pushing back members of the persecuted minority to Myanmar despite the army there were being accused of atrocities against the Rohingya.

The United Nations has accused India of disregarding the relevant international law and returning the Rohingya to possible danger in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Even, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen criticizes the Indian government over its stance on granting Rohingya Muslims citizenship, saying Muslims and they are our neighbours and they certainly deserve the same kind of sympathy as non-Muslims minorities who get into difficulties in the neighbouring countries. He worried about the cultivation of an atmosphere of intolerance that has been a part of polices that's been pursued over the last few years.

Considering the gravity of sufferings Rohingya refugees face, humanitarian, political, law and order, security, development and environmental concerns must be prioritized rethinking different phases of enforcement. The international community is working closely with the Government of Bangladesh and Myanmar respectively to assist them in working towards voluntary, safe and dignified returns. They believe, only harmonious return can break the decades-long cycle of displacement the Rohingya community is experiencing. Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed in 2018 between the Government of Myanmar, UNHCR and UNDP is intended to ensure that refugees receive information on the situation in their places of origin and this MoU keeps a provision allowing Rohingya refugees to visit their home villages and other areas where they may choose to return. It also stands for extending transit facilities to Myanmar.

UN agencies, international and national NGOs and government bodies are in a collective effort aiming at delivering protection to refugee women, men, girls and boys, providing life-saving assistance and fostering social cohesion. If this problem lingers for a longer time, it may encourage creating pockets of radicalism and that may create problems of uncertainty and instability not only for Myanmar and Bangladesh but for the entire region. Hence, allowing Rohingyas to go back to their place of origin in Myanmar with freedom of movement and other basic human rights would be the best way of showing respect to human rights. To help Myanmar create conditions favourable for the Rohingyas to return, the UNDP and UNHCR signed a tripartite deal with Myanmar in June 2018, nearly a year after 740,000 Rohingyas fled military atrocities in Rakhine, which was described as having “genocidal intent” by UN independent investigators.

The recent visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in early July this year to China was productive as China assured Bangladesh to stand beside Bangladesh in the repatriation of the Rohingyas. They expressed their interest to help Bangladesh in resolving the Rohingya crisis by convincing the Myanmar government and its leaders through bilateral discussions. The second attempt to start repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar on 22 August 2019 was turned out to be futile, as no refugees showed willingness to go back to Arakan. They have again demanded their citizenship with right to freedom of movement and access to all opportunities. Myanmar has yet to address the systematic persecution and violence against the Rohingya, so refugees have every reason to fear for their safety if they return. It has now been apparent that, achieving durable solutions requires the Myanmar government to address the fundamental issues of equal rights and ensure that all communities in the Rakhine State can live in safety, access basic services and pursue livelihoods opportunities.

The Bangladesh government has been making diplomatic efforts in persuading Myanmar to repatriate the refugees over the months but in reality, it is highly unlikely the Bangladesh government will succeed in sending the refugees back to Myanmar in a shortest possible time. Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed in late 2017 to complete the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees within two years, notwithstanding international doubts that they will be held in forbidding detention camps that may result in another round of cruelty both physically and psychologically.

The British-drafted resolution was in support of Bangladesh as it had warned that the 15-member Security Council could consider further steps, including sanctions, if there was not enough progress made by Myanmar for repatriation. I endorse what the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says, ‘India can help tackle the crisis by backing Bangladesh in humanitarian assistance and using its influence in Myanmar to bring about reconciliation’. I could recall here what Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Harsh Vardhan Shringla said, “Our commitment is there in resolving the issue and to repatriate the displaced people as soon as possible”. Even Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in April 2018 sought affirmative role of China, Russia, India and Japan in resolving the Rohingya crisis.

Like past, Bangladesh government is continuing its efforts to encourage other governments to stay engaged and address the pressing needs of these refugees.

Apart from her speech in the UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina joined a high-level side-event on the situation of Rohingyas in Myanmar organised by the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh and the OIC Secretariat at Conference.

She put forth a fresh set of four proposals on how the Rohingya crisis could be resolved when she addressed the UNGA apprising the world leadership of the current situation. As Bangladesh and India have continued to consolidate their political, economic, trade and cultural relations as well as have built a comprehensive institutional framework to promote bilateral cooperation over the decades, India must come forward to join hands with Bangladesh government for swift repatriation of Rohingyas. We also expect China will remain beside Bangladesh to resolve this prolonged crisis.

We are looking forward to the successful repatriation of the Rohingya to Myanmar and enable them to have access to different dimensions of human security. United Nations, which is found to be very emphatic for meaningful repatriation of Rohingya refuges from Bangladesh, must coordinate and communicate with donors and other relevant stakeholders to come forward to solve this problem permanently by putting pressure on the Myanmar government to take back its citizens by creating a safe and secured environment.

The Government of Myanmar must take urgent action to address the root causes of the crisis which have persisted for decades, so that people are no longer forced to flee and the refugees can eventually return home in safety and dignity. The UN at the same time must enforce the recommendation of Annan Commission by imposing diplomatic force on Myanmar. In this regard, UN Security Council must bring the resolution to facilitate investigation on the alleged violation of human rights and ensure an international supervision for safe repatriation of the persecuted community. The UN can also initiate a visit to the Rohingya refugee camps by the Security Council again to force the government of Myanmar for setting up “safe zones” for people of all backgrounds in conflict-torn parts of Myanmar as proposed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The writer is an Associate Professor of Government and Politics at Jahangirnagar University. He can be contacted at: t.islam@juniv.edu