by Krishna Kumar Saha 2 August 2021
In August 2017, the people of the Rohingya minority fled Arakan, Myanmar, to escape the violence and abuse by the majority Buddhist population and security forces there. And within less than three months, 750000 refugees entered Bangladesh and currently living in the district of Cox’s Bazar. More than 1.2 million Rohingya refugees live in Bangladesh. Most of them are located in few kilometers from the Myanmar border, houses one of the world’s largest refugee camps of temporary shelters. It will be four years of the massive influx of Rohingyas from Myanmar into Bangladesh in August 2021.
In 2012 Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) formed in the wake of strife among Buddhists and Rohingya in Myanmar’s underdeveloped and conflict-ridden northern Rakhine state of Myanmar. The group used the anger and desperation of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar facing daily oppression to bolster its position via a combination of claims to religious legitimacy and fear and propagated a message of hope. However, many Rohingya think that the ARSA’s attacks on Myanmar police provoked the country’s brutal, indiscriminate military campaign, which led them to exile. In addition, ARSA was also responsible for the killings of civilians, both Rohingya and their Hindu neighbors, in August 2017 by massacring dozens of Hindu villages.
Many days have gone by, but there has been no durable or long-term solution to end this current crisis. We also don’t see any possible solution in the foreseeable future, given the COVID crisis and the political unrest in Myanmar. Though the national authorities in Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed on a repatriation agreement. There have been few repatriation attempts, but all of them have been doomed to fail because of the resistance from the Rohingya refugees. Most of them don’t want to return to Myanmar as long as the Myanmar government guarantees them citizenship and protection from further violence and abuse by the security forces and the majority Buddhist population.
As an immediate solution to the accommodation crisis to the densest refugee camps, poor conditions, lack of proper shelters, toilet facilities, clean water, and food, the government has relocated the Rohingya people to Bhashan Char in Noakhali. Initially, there have been confusion and resistance among the Rohingya refugees. Still, after a long negotiation with the Rohingya community leaders and the NGOs working in Rohingya refugee camps, the Bangladesh government could convince a part of the refugee population to relocate to Bhashan Char. However, that is also going very slowly, and Bangladesh activists are not very happy with bringing the Rohingya people to one more district, which can intimidate the violent ARSA in the new areas of Bangladesh.
On 12 July 2021, for the first time, the UNHRC adopted a resolution on Rohingya was adopted in the UN without a vote. This adaption of the resolution by consensus is a significant milestone for Bangladesh. The foreign ministry has pointed it out as a diplomatic with and one step forward for Rohingya repatriation and enforcing the Myanmar government to take back their citizens. Now it is time for the international community to pay due attention to the crisis and seek a durable solution. It needs to be pointed out that the root causes of the crisis lie in Myanmar.
So far, all the efforts made by the Bangladesh government have remained unsuccessful because of the cooperation by the counterpart Myanmar government. The people who have escaped indescribable pain and suffering and wish nothing but more to go back home. And when it comes to the repatriation, the Myanmar government play dumb, break promises, delay, and worst of all, they deny their right to return to their homeland of Rakhine. In addition, they even refuse the atrocities and injustice against them.
The international community’s silence and hesitant support have allowed Myanmar to prolong the process. The longer the powerful states remain silent, the longer the Rohingya remain stateless. They will not be able to return to their homes. The murderers, arsonists, and rapists responsible for their sufferings will remain free. The longer their inaction, the longer will be the suffering for the Rohingyas. In addition, the transnational jihadist groups – that is, groups such as al-Qaeda in the South Asian subcontinent, Islamic State (ISIS), or their Bangladeshi affiliates – have exploited the Rohingya crisis to mobilize or recruit in the camps. It will also allow the Myanmar authority to legitimize their version of the truth.
Bangladesh’s government has been very generous in accommodating the refugees and established Bhashan Char, an entire accommodation area for Myanmar refugees. Furthermore, the prime minister has provided means of livelihood for both Rohingya males and females. Bangladesh has also received for its humanitarian efforts to aid the Rohingya, but that is not enough. The international community is now to provide more than encouragement and implement policies that will force Myanmar to cooperate with the repatriation process.
However, without improved trust and coordination from the Myanmar authority, guarantee for their citizenship, their right to education and health is ensured, the Rohingyas will not agree to leave for Arakan, Myanmar. Because they are afraid of the Myanmar military as they have killed their people, burnt and captured their lands in the past. And they will continue to do so in the future. For Rohingya, refugee shelters are better than homes. Without proper entitlement from the Myanmar authority, the refugees don’t want to return anytime soon.
And given the current volatile political situation, the sudden change in Myanmar earlier this year, the coup in February 2021 has taken everyone by surprise and put a question mark on the repatriation process. International communities are closely observing the situation in Myanmar and hoping that everything returns to normal. However, it should not take away the attention of the international community from the repatriation process. Likewise, the Bangladesh government should work together with the NGOs working in Rohingya refugee camps to ensure trust and coordination among the refugees, reduce the risk of violence against women and girls, train youth to cover community, their need for basic education etc. In addition, the Rohingya need a non-violent leadership who can work to ensure their safety and repatriation. Rather than ARSA, who might make things worse even before it improves by the violence on Bangladeshi soil.
(We acknowledge different sources with gratitude.)
Photo Description: An exhausted Rohingya refugee woman touches the shore after crossing the Bangladesh-Burma border by boat through the Bay of Bengal in Shah Porir Dwip, Bangladesh, on September 11, 2017
The writer is Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Administration, Comilla University, Bangladesh. He can be reached at, firstname.lastname@example.org