The United Nations recently announced that it would help fund Bangladesh’s initiative to move at least some of its Rohingya refugees, who fled Myanmar, from Cox’s Bazar to the island of Bhashan Char in the Ganges delta. Given the population pressures in the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, this seems like a good idea—but it’s anything but. Stranding the Rohingya on the island could have catastrophic consequences.
Bhashan Char is unstable land that only emerged from the sea in 2006, it is extremely vulnerable to monsoons, and it would certainly not allow for the development of stable, self-sufficient communities in the long term. The move would be a disaster for the refugees’ future.
The funding from the U.N. is supposed to mitigate some of these problems, such as by constructing flood protections and housing capable of withstanding the normal weather extremes in the region. U.N. support for the initiative is officially conditional on the rights of the Rohingya being respected: All relocation to Bhashan Char is to be voluntary, there is to be humanitarian response infrastructure on the island, and the government of Bangladesh must at all times, prior and after relocation, provide the relevant information on the project to the refugees who take up the offer of relocation.
This all sounds very well on paper, but the scope for error, intentional or not, is wide—and the consequences disastrous.
For one, this project entrenches Dhaka’s current policy that the Rohingya refugees are to be kept as a separate population so that they will be much easier to repatriate—the idea being that if the locals and the Rohingya do not form any real bonds, there will be nothing to keep any Rohingya in Bangladesh. So they are to be dumped on just about the only uninhabited land in a crowded Bangladesh and conveniently placed more than an hour away by boat from any other humans. The Rohingya know from past persecution in Myanmar that this kind of segregation leaves them vulnerable to changing political winds. They are tolerated for now. A future government in Dhaka may choose to turn on a segregated, disenfranchised, and vulnerable population for any number of reasons.
Bangladesh needs a better plan for dealing with the refugee crisis
Bangladesh’s hosting of Rohingya refugees is unequaled in the current context of global anti-immigration sentiment.
It’s hard to comprehend how 165 million people are living in a land area equal to the state of Arkansas (where the population is only 3 million). Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries on planet Earth, with under $2,000 per capita, and still has given shelter to over a million refugees from Myanmar since 2017. The refugees have been crossing the Bangladeshi border since the early 90s, but this has escalated in recent years due to the premeditated massacres carried out against them.
After fleeing from the Rakhine state of Myanmar, 37,300 square kilometres of beautiful land by the Bay of Bengal, these million plus people are now living in cramped refugee camps in Bangladesh — roughly half a square metre per person. Perhaps dealing with poverty and disasters regularly has helped the Bangladeshi people not to feel threatened by these Rohingya who entered their country.
While we expect that the UN may be able to explain the reasoning behind this prolonged ineffectiveness to resolve the crisis, the clocks of these Rohingya people are not stopping. Hundreds of humanitarian organizations are already working on rehabilitation, education, and skills development for the refugees’ futures.
Organizations like BRAC are working to improve childhood education and are engaging with technologies to address subjects like mental health for healthy brain development. Even though the Bangladesh government had no other choice but to keep these refugees in a restricted small area, the Rohingya people cannot continue to live their lives this way.
They need to be outside the camps and explore opportunities on their own to live human experiences. Bangladeshi people have sacrificed tremendously to own their rights and speak their mother tongue and, because of this, they can help to preserve the Rohingya language, an essential step for the refugees’ psychosocial well-being.
UN says it has unconfirmed reports suggesting that as many as 30 people may have been killed in Rakhine state attack.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has said it fears that dozens of Rohingya civilians may have been killed in a military attack in Myanmar’s Rakhine state last week, despite official government tolls putting the number of dead at six.
“We are now receiving reports that the number may be much higher than that. We have unconfirmed reports that the number may be as high as 30,” said Ravina Shamdasani, the spokesperson for the OHCHR, on Tuesday.
On Friday, the the Myanmar army-run Myawady Daily newspaper had said the six Rohingya killed and nine wounded in Wednesday’s aerial attack were “together with terrorists while the army was cracking down on the Arakan Army’s terrorist activities” in Buthidaung township, referring to an armed group that draws much of its recruits from the ethnic Rakhine population.
But Arakan Army Spokesman Khin Thu Kha denied that the dead and wounded men were members of the armed group, saying the military had attacked indiscriminately.
“They bombed everywhere, believing there were Arakan Army members in the jungle,” he was quoted as saying by the Reuters news agency.
Three villagers and a regional legislator had also told Reuters on Thursday that the men were collecting bamboo near the Sai Din waterfall when an army helicopter attacked.
“All of them were bamboo workers,” said Soe Tun Oo, a fellow labourer.
KUALA LUMPUR—Thirty-seven people believed to be Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar were found on a beach in northern Malaysia on Monday, police said, the latest arrivals in what authorities fear could be a new wave of people smuggling by sea.
Dozens of Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh have boarded boats in recent months to try to reach Malaysia, which had seen a decline in arrivals after a 2015 crackdown on trafficking.
Last month, 35 migrants were found on Sungai Belati beach in the northern state of Perlis.
On Monday, 37 men were detained around the town of Simpang Empat after landing at the same beach in the early morning, state police chief Noor Mushar Mohamad told Reuters.
“We believe they were travelling on a much larger boat, before being transferred into smaller boats at sea and taken to different places,” he said, adding the men were in good health and have been handed over to immigration officials.
More than 700,000 Rohingya crossed into Bangladesh in 2017 fleeing an army crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, according to U.N. agencies.
Myanmar regards Rohingya as illegal migrants from the Indian subcontinent and has confined tens of thousands to sprawling camps in Rakhine since violence swept the area in 2012.
Officials believe the migrants found on Monday are from Myanmar or Bangladesh.
“We are still investigating where the boats are coming from, but we suspect human trafficking syndicates are involved,” Noor Mushar said.
Since they (Myanmar) are our close neighbours, we will never engage in any conflict with them (Myanmar). Rather we’ll have to continue efforts so that they’ll take back their nationals through negotiations,” she said while visiting the Defence Ministry in the city.
The prime minister said Bangladesh provided shelter to some one million Rohingyas on humanitarian grounds. “It’s surprising to the world how we could provide shelter to such a huge number of people and save them.”
She further said, “We didn’t engage in any conflict with Myanmar. We have discussed and signed an agreement with them. Our aim is to send them back to their country through dialogues.”
Sheikh Hasina, also Defence Minister, asked all the authorities concerned to discharge their responsibility according to the goal.Acting Army Chief Lieutenant General Md Shamsul Haque, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Aurangzeb Chowdhury, Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Masihuzzaman Serniabat, Principal Coordinator (SDG Affairs) of the PMO Md Abdul Islam Azad and PM’s Military Secretary Major General Mia Md Jainul Abedin were present.
What’s the solution to the Rohingya crisis? It’s a question that affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people in temporary shelters in Bangladesh and needs to be urgently answered. For a long time since the humanitarian crisis began in 2016, Western countries have directed criticism at the Myanmar government’s handling of the issue. However, criticism won’t help resolve the crisis. International assistance is needed. But in the long run, the only way out is by stabilizing and reinvigorating the conflict-ridden Rakhine state with investment and development opportunities.
The Myanmar government has increasingly come to realize this point. Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s State Counselor, recently called on foreign investors to invest in Rakhine. In a late February speech at the Rakhine State Investment Fair, the first of its kind, she said economic development could be the answer to much of the state’s woes.
Plagued by conflicts and sectarian violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, the Rakhine state suffers from scarce foreign investments. Many investors, especially Western corporations, have shied away from it due to concerns about uncertain commercial prospects and their reputation being damaged if accused of being involved in the Rohingya controversy.
China has played a positive and constructive role in resolving the Rohingya crisis. It has donated 1,100 prefabricated houses for displaced persons in Rakhine, 20 trucks and 200 million kyats ($147,058) to help restore peace and stability in the region. Taking the lead in developing the deep-sea port of Kyaukpyu, which has created many local jobs and greatly eased the shortage of electricity, Chinese investment has brought tangible benefits to people in Rakhine. Backwardness is the main cause of conflicts. If more countries, including Singapore, Thailand and Japan can increase their investments in the region, tensions will be alleviated.
COX’S BAZAAR, Bangladesh (RNS) — When 60-year-old Dil Mohammad found out in November that he was on a list of some 2,000 Rohingya refugees to be sent back to Myanmar, he grabbed the bottle of rat poison and poured it down his throat. His wife forced him to vomit and rushed him to the nearby Médecins Sans Frontières hospital.
To Mohammad, suicide, a grave sin in Islam, was preferable to returning to the persecution that his people have suffered for decades in their historic home in western Myanmar.
“It’s better to die in Bangladesh, where I would get a proper Islamic burial, than be killed in Myanmar for being Muslim,” he said. “God will forgive my act of suicide because he knows our pain.”
Some 700,000 Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority from northern Rakhine state across the border in Myanmar, have flooded into refugee camps in Bangladesh since August 2017, when Rohingya militants known as ARSA (the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) attacked Myanmar border police, setting off a violent retaliation. Rohingya villages have been razed and Myanmar troops have allegedly raped and killed thousands of Rohingya civilians.
Mohammad and his family, fearing for their lives, walked for days through forests in torrential rain, arriving in Bangladesh in September 2017.
“There was nothing here when we arrived, just trees and land,” said Mohammad. Local Bangladeshi families helped the refugees set up shelters and provided food and water until aid groups and Bangladesh’s armed forces arrived to set up makeshift camps.
Volker Türk, the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection at UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, concluded his visit to Bangladesh today, following high-level discussions with the Government of Bangladesh on the pursuit of solutions to the Rohingya refugee crisis.
During his five-day visit, Mr. Türk was accompanied by the Agency’s Director of the Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, Mr. Indrika Ratwatte, and the Director of External Relations, Ms. Dominique Hyde. Mr. Türk met with many Rohingya in the Kutupalong refugee settlement – the world’s largest – and discussed how they see their futures. He also met with the key Government officials, who have led the Rohingya response in Cox’s Bazar District, to review the challenges they are facing and the opportunities they see as the response evolves.
In Dhaka, Mr. Türk held high-level talks with the Government of Bangladesh that focussed on finding solutions fostering the development of conditions for the voluntary, safe and dignified return of refugees to Myanmar. They also discussed ways to expand opportunities of the Rohingya refugees to build their skills and knowledge, particularly so they will be able to contribute to society in Myanmar when they are able to return.
Following the talks, Mr. Türk said, “I was encouraged by and deeply appreciative of the Government’s unrelenting commitment to finding solutions and improving the situation for the Rohingya.
UNHCR and the Government have agreed to focus and strengthen collective efforts that can lead to tangible improvements in their lives, in particular women and girls at risk”, he added.
UNHCR’s discussions with the Government also focused on the importance of supporting Bangladeshi host communities. Mr. Türk said: “The people of Bangladesh and, especially those living in Ukhiya and Teknaf in Cox’s Bazar District, were the first responders in 2017, and they have continued to show a tremendous humanitarian spirit and generosity. The impacts of the Rohingya refugee presence on their lives must be recognised and addressed”.
Tasmida wrote “Myanmar” in the column for nationality on her application form for the senior secondary exams of the Jamia Millia Islamia board here. The receipt for the application came with “Indian” printed on it.
“I told my teacher and she asked me to submit the form again. The second time too the receipt showed ‘Indian’,” the 21-year-old Rohingya told The Telegraph at her tin-and-bamboo hut in a slum on the Yamuna’s banks here.
“My classmates told me that I’m an Indian now because I look Indian and speak Hindi. But I’m from Myanmar. I want my nationality.”
Tasmida is the first female candidate for the Class XII exams from the Rohingya refugee community in India.
The journey from Class III to Class XII has taken her 14 years, four schools, and the challenge of learning three languages from scratch — courtesy her family’s double immigration, from Myanmar to Bangladesh and then to India.
“When I was younger I didn’t know what ‘nationality’ means. But today, when I see how my friends can call India their own country, I too want to have my nationality of Myanmar,” she said.
Of the more than seven lakh Rohingya who have fled ethnic conflict in Myanmar, 17,500 —including Tasmida’s family — had got registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in India till last year. The UNHCR provides a semblance of security against deportation.
The Centre had told the Rajya Sabha in 2017 that it estimated that India had about 40,000 Rohingya refugees.
Community leaders say that hundreds have fled to Bangladesh following attacks by zealots and deportations over the past year.
The Rohingya Literacy Programme, headed by Tasmida’s brother and UNHCR translator Ali Johar, has counted only 40 Rohingya children in India currently enrolled in educational institutions.
Rohingya lawyer Rozia Sultana said there was a lack of hope among the refugees from the mainly Muslim minority, who fled a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar launched in response to militant attacks in August 2017.
“The more time they spend in the camps, the worse it’s going to get,” said Sultana, who last week received the International Women of Courage Award (IWCA) from the US Department of State.
After interviewing hundreds of victims of sexual violence following an earlier influx of Rohingya refugees in 2016 she set up the Rohingya Women’s Welfare Society to provide counselling for women in the camps in 2017.
The organisation also trains Rohingya volunteers to address problems such as domestic abuse and child marriage in the community.
“Give the Rohingya women an opportunity and a bit of security and they will amaze you,” said Sultana.
“When I first started working, I could barely convince five girls to take part in the programme. Today we have 60 volunteers who do amazing work. They inform me about early marriages, domestic violence or risks of trafficking in the camps.”