It’s a trifle lonely out there


It seems that Myanmar would like the Rohingya to just vanish

State policy that has remained unstated must have been behind Gambia, and not Bangladesh, filing a case against Myanmar in the International Court of Justice. 

The ICC ruling directing Myanmar to stop atrocities on the Rohingya doesn’t serve Bangladesh well in terms of repatriation of the refugees. The ICC has initiated a probe into atrocities committed, but it might as well have reviewed interviews given by the refugees so far, as well as international media coverage including one from BBC that won an international award.

Member of Parliament Rashed Khan Menon has publicly lamented the lack of support from our closest friends China, India, and Russia, none of whom have exerted any real pressure on Myanmar to take back the refugees by creating a congenial atmosphere. 

Two attempts to begin the process agreed by Bangladesh and Myanmar fell through simply because the Rohingya refused to go. Not that they can be blamed. Anyone returning has no homes to return to and instead will be housed in a form of camps encircled by barbed wire. 

Yet, international agencies have effectively dashed the idea of relocating the refugees in a new settlement built by the Bangladesh Navy, at great cost, on the Bhashan Char. In spite of being designed by renowned architects with proper flood protection embankments, the international community is raising doubts about their efficacy as well as the isolation of the char from the mainland. 

This, they argue, will limit access, thereby disrupting movement of supplies. They have also raised questions about social security measures, including the right to education. While one is tempted to ask what education opportunities have been provided by Europe to the refugees from the Middle-East and Africa, there is a big question that everyone is ignoring. 

As it is, Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries at threat from global warming. The environmental degradation caused by the refugees of the hill area is in some ways irreparable and could put the lives of the local populace at risk. 

Nor is the international community considering the danger of a spread in drug, and even arms, peddling as well as the constant attempts of individuals to break out of camps to mingle with the general population. Local residents are complaining of a rise in law and order issues, and even disruption to their businesses. 

That our internal checks are inadequate is borne out of the fact that we have agreed to take back 42,000 Rohingya that travelled on Bangladeshi passports and NID cards to work in Saudi Arabia. This is outside of the stream of expatriates that the kingdom is sending back on various counts. That so many Rohingya could get their documents done has to be the subject of a proper investigation. 

The government’s long -erm plan was to offer the settlement housing to those Bangladeshi citizens without homes and land after the repatriation of the Rohingya. Moving a small group there would reduce but not rule out the risk of having them encamped where they are. 

In the meantime, the refugees are entrenching themselves for the long haul. The flow of aid to the camp has slowed but hasn’t completely stopped. That will be a matter of time until the next crisis emerges and funds are diverted. The UN has just called for some $800 million donations for the refugees. For now, the government is having to bear the brunt of costs it can ill-afford. 

The solution to the issue is concerted pressure that Myanmar cannot deny, both in the way they treat and deal with the Rohingya as well as providing proper homes for their return. While it borders on influencing what essentially is an internal matter, Myanmar’s attitude appears to be a wish that the Rohingya just dry up and vanish. The countries that can influence are maintaining measured silence, with China vetoing a resolution in the Security Council. Since then, there has appeared a glimmer of hope. In a rare meeting with the press recently, China’s ambassador to Bangladesh has said some good news is expected shortly. How short that is and more significantly what that is piques the interest.

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.