The State­less Peo­ple

Myan­mar leader Suu Kyi bears re­spon­si­bil­ity for what is hap­pen­ing in Rakhine be­cause her party rules, not the junta. For decades, Myan­mar per­se­cuted the Ro­hingya peo­ple while the world ig­nored their plight. By all ac­counts, the sit­u­a­tion has not changed.

Southasia - - CON­TENTS - By K. A. Naqsh­bandi

Ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees (UN­HCR), there are more than 200,000 Ro­hingya in Bangladesh to­day, in­clud­ing more than 90,000 un­reg­is­tered refugees liv­ing in two un­of­fi­cial camps of Leda, Tek­naf, Cox's Bazar and Ku­tu­pa­long Makeshift, Ukhiya and Cox's Bazar. Un­der the 1982 Myan­mar Cit­i­zen­ship Law, Ro­hingya, an eth­nic group very much linked through lan­guage, cul­ture, and re­li­gion to the over­whelm­ing Ben­gali pop­u­la­tion of Bangladesh, were not only de­nied the Myan­mar cit­i­zen­ship but were also sub­ject to atroc­i­ties as they were con­sid­ered il­le­gal mi­grants set­tled in the coun­try dur­ing the Bri­tish rule. There­fore, Ro­hingya liv­ing in Rakhine State, on Myan­mar’s western coast had to leave their birth­place in search of a place where they could live in peace and the nat­u­ral op­tion was of course the next-door neigh­bour Bangladesh.

The mass ex­o­dus started when the hope that Aung San Suu Kyi would do some­thing for the Ro­hingya, turned into de­spair. Find­ing no light at the end of the tun­nel, the Ro­hingya pop­u­la­tion started leav­ing the coun­try in search of a safe haven. The un­ex­pected at­ti­tude of Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Myan­mar’s democ­racy move­ment and cham­pion of hu­man rights, for a com­mu­nity liv­ing in sub­hu­man con­di­tions and fac­ing the atroc­i­ties of the Burmese sol­diers and civil­ians alike came as an un­bear­able shock for them. Po­lit­i­cal ob­server be­lieve that she kept quiet on the burn­ing is­sue be­cause she knew that speak­ing out in favour of the Ro­hingya pop­u­la­tion would dam­age her pop­u­lar­ity with the ma­jor­ity Bud­dhist pop­u­la­tion in Myan­mar and also ad­versely af­fect her ef­forts to rule the coun­try with ease and aplomb.

De­spite close cul­tural and re­li­gious affin­ity, the Bangladesh gov­ern­ment was re­luc­tant to take the re­spon­si­bil­ity of ac­com­mo­dat­ing a fairly large num­ber of Ro­hingya refugees. So they stopped their reg­u­lar in­flux from Myan­mar on the pre­text that the refugees were in­volved in drug-re­lated and vi­o­lent crimes in Cox’s Bazaar. Con­se­quently, the Bangladesh gov­ern­ment im­posed a ban on their move­ment and ac­cess to ba­sic ser­vices in 2012. The move­ments of the Ro­hingyas were fur­ther re­stricted fol­low­ing at­tacks on Bud­dhist com­mu­ni­ties in south­east­ern Bangladesh. On the other hand, due to the eco­nomic con­di­tions and fi­nan­cial con­straints, Bangladesh did not come up with a com­pre­hen­sive refugee pol­icy de­spite as­sur­ances of help from var­i­ous NGOs.

Later, Bangladesh de­clared that it was

work­ing on a na­tional refugee pol­icy and un­til it was an­nounced, no new refugees would be reg­is­tered at the coun­try’s two of­fi­cial refugee camps. NGOs and the UN­HCR were also asked to re­frain from of­fer­ing any ad­di­tional ser­vices to the un­reg­is­tered refugees. How­ever, in 2014 the gov­ern­ment an­nounced its na­tional strat­egy for Myan­mar refugees and un­doc­u­mented na­tion­als which in­cluded five key el­e­ments: list­ing un­reg­is­tered refugees, pro­vid­ing tem­po­rary ba­sic hu­man­i­tar­ian re­lief, strength­en­ing bor­der man­age­ment, diplo­matic en­gage­ment with the gov­ern­ment of Myan­mar and in­creas­ing na­tional level co­or­di­na­tion. Although the state­ment be­lieved in of­fer­ing ba­sic hu­man­i­tar­ian re­lief, there was an acute short­age of funds for build­ing a sys­tem that al­lowed refugees any op­por­tu­ni­ties for self-re­liance.

Bangladesh, one of the world's most densely pop­u­lated coun­tries, has long com­plained that its con­gested ur­ban ar­eas and vil­lages can­not cope with the bur­den of Ro­hingya refugees pour­ing into the coun­try. About 10 years ago, Bangladesh silently adopted a pol­icy to throw the refugees back to Myan­mar, yet the Ro­hingyas some­how man­aged to re­turn, slip­ping through the por­ous bor­der, usu­ally through river cross­ings. Au­thor­i­ties in Yan­gon (pre­vi­ously Ran­goon) nev­er­the­less, ar­gue that most of the poor Ro­hingya now cross­ing the bor­der are not ci­ti­zens of Myan­mar but, in fact, they are de­scen­dents of il­le­gal im­mi­grants who ar­rived years ago. The Ro­hingya, how­ever, claim their com­mu­nity has lived where Myan­mar is lo­cated for cen­turies.

On the other hand, the con­cen­tra­tion of the Ro­hingya refugees in Chit­tagong, es­pe­cially in the vicin­ity of Cox’s Bazar, one of the world's long­est (120 km) un­bro­ken sandy sea beaches, ad­versely af­fected the tourism in­dus­try of Bangladesh. So re­cently, the gov­ern­ment had to come up with a some­what un­car­ing plan to deal with the refugee in­flux. In May 2016, for ex­am­ple, The Guardian re­ported that Prime Min­is­ter Sheikh Hasina had an­nounced plans to re­lo­cate the refugee camps from their cur­rent lo­ca­tion near Cox’s Bazar to an is­land in the Bay of Ben­gal. The move ap­pears to be mo­ti­vated by plans to boost the num­ber of tourists vis­it­ing the fa­mous beaches of Cox’s Bazar.

Be­sides a num­ber of in­ter­nal prob­lems, Bangladesh’s highly strained re­la­tion­ship with Myan­mar is also a rea­son for its re­luc­tance to ac­cept the refugees. On­go­ing dif­fer­ences over bor­der se­cu­rity and upris­ings re­strict Bangladesh from ac­com­mo­dat­ing the Ro­hingya de­spite as­sur­ances of co­op­er­a­tion and sup­port from UN­HCR and other NGOs. Not­with­stand­ing the on­go­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions, var­i­ous in­sur­gent groups are still fight­ing. In­sur­gent groups have also taken ad­van­tage of the con­fu­sion sur­round­ing the bor­der area. In late Au­gust 2016, the Bangladesh mil­i­tary or­gan­ised a num­ber of op­er­a­tions into the bor­der ar­eas to re­pulse sol­diers of the Abakan Army, one of Myan­mar’s eth­nic armed or­ga­ni­za­tions, which had been op­er­at­ing in the re­gion il­le­gally with­out the knowl­edge of Myan­mar gov­ern­ment forces.

On the other hand the Ro­hingya in­sur­gents are also tak­ing refuge in Bangladesh which has cre­ated quite a prob­lem for the Bangladesh gov­ern­ment. In fact, the move­ment of state­less Ro­hingya has com­pli­cated an al­ready in­se­cure bor­der, plagued by drug traf­fick­ing and in­sur­gency groups. The bor­der be­tween these two coun­tries is a ma­jor tran­sit zone for metham­phetamines --- an ex­tremely ad­dic­tive stim­u­lant drug that is chem­i­cally sim­i­lar to am­phet­a­mine --- from Myan­mar. There­fore, the un­re­stricted move­ment of Ro­hingya refugees adds to the Bangladesh gov­ern­ment’s le­git­i­mate con­cerns about the area. The bor­der is dif­fi­cult for the state to con­trol be­cause of its dis­tance from any ma­jor cities, re­sult­ing in ram­pant il­le­gal trade and bor­der cross­ings.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­solv­ing the mat­ter of the por­ous bor­der and end­ing the sanc­tu­ar­ies of var­i­ous in­sur­gent groups would re­quire the two states to en­ter into long-term diplo­matic ne­go­ti­a­tions. It would also de­pend on the ex­pan­sion of Myan­mar’s state ca­pac­ity, which re­mains lim­ited, es­pe­cially in re­mote bor­der ar­eas. For these rea­sons, it is dif­fi­cult to pre­scribe easy pol­icy op­tions for deal­ing with this is­sue. How­ever, there are very tan­gi­ble and vi­able steps that Bangladesh can pur­sue to al­le­vi­ate the dire plight of the Ro­hingyas.

Although the UN­HCR ex­pressed its will­ing­ness to help the Bangladesh gov­ern­ment in cov­er­ing the costs of ad­di­tional ser­vices and reg­is­ter­ing refugees, Bangladesh re­fuses to act. The UN­HCR and other in­ter­na­tional NGOs have of­fered a num­ber of pro­pos­als to im­prove the sit­u­a­tion. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port, fol­low­ing pro­pos­als have been made:

The UN­HCR and in­ter­na­tional NGOs work­ing with refugees need to pres­sure Dhaka to pro­duce a com­pre­hen­sive refugee strat­egy that can re­al­is­ti­cally ad­dress the Ro­hingya is­sue. Dhaka needs to come to grips with the sad but in­eluctable fact that Myan­mar will not take steps to im­prove the lot of Ro­hingya and the Ro­hingya refugee cri­sis is un­likely to stop any­time soon.

Bangladesh Bor­der Guards should be in­structed to al­low Ro­hingya refugees into the coun­try for im­me­di­ate regis­tra­tion, un­less there is suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence that the asy­lum seek­ers are ei­ther drug traf­fick­ers or in­sur­gents. Deny­ing Ro­hingya le­gal en­try only in­cen­tivizes il­le­gal en­try and co­op­er­a­tion with in­sur­gency groups and drug traf­fick­ers. In­deed, ac­cept­ing more of­fi­cial refugees should be in­te­grated into Dhaka’s bor­der se­cu­rity, anti­nar­cotics, and anti-ter­ror­ist leg­is­la­tion. By ac­cept­ing refugees, the Bangladesh gov­ern­ment will be in a bet­ter po­si­tion to keep them out of crim­i­nal and ex­trem­ist net­works.

Bangladesh has a moral im­per­a­tive to con­tribute to global hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­tiv­i­ties. Ar­guably, Bangladesh has ben­e­fited most from in­ter­na­tional aid, poverty re­duc­tion pro­grammes, and hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance. Since the coun­try’s in­de­pen­dence, it has been the dar­ling of in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment and could count on sub­stan­tial aid in times of dif­fi­culty. Tak­ing on more Ro­hingya refugees is not just a prac­ti­cal pol­icy is­sue; it is an in­trin­si­cally moral is­sue for Bangladesh.

Nu­rul Is­lam, a Bri­tain-based Ro­hingya rights ac­tivist and com­mu­nity leader, in an in­ter­view with the VOA, has re­cently said, "If Bangladesh re­ally does not want to host these refugees any­more and some other coun­tries are will­ing to help, we will be thank­ful if the other Mus­lim coun­tries of­fer tem­po­rary refuge to this hap­less com­mu­nity."

On a daily ba­sis, state-run news­pa­pers in Myan­mar print ar­ti­cles that de­nounce the in­ter­na­tional me­dia for sto­ries that high­light the plight of the Ro­hingya. Mean­while, a gov­ern­men­tap­pointed in­ves­ti­ga­tion is due to pub­lish its fi­nal re­port on whether atroc­i­ties have been com­mit­ted against the Ro­hingya mi­nor­ity in Myan­mar. With jour­nal­ists banned from north­ern Rakhine state, the Burmese gov­ern­ment has been try­ing to counter al­le­ga­tions that its sol­diers have been rap­ing and killing civil­ians.

Hav­ing barely es­caped with their lives and leav­ing all their be­long­ings be­hind, hoards of Ro­hingyas are seen beg­ging in dif­fer­ent parts of Bangladesh. Keep­ing in view the plight of Ro­hingya and the state of af­fairs in Bangladesh, it is in fact, the joint re­spon­si­bil­ity of the Mus­lim states to do some­thing for this com­mu­nity on a war foot­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.