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Bangladesh needs international support for resolving the Rohingya issue

Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, Rohingya, Myanmar, UNGA, United Nations General Assembly, World Bank

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Bangladesh needs international support for resolving the Rohingya issue

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will be raising the issue of the repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar during the 76th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abul Momen has called upon the Commonwealth members including Chair-in-Office, the UK to engage with Myanmar for its compliance with ‘provisional measures’ by the ICJ and expedite return of the Rohingyas to their ancestral homes in Myanmar.

Dr AK Abdul Moment said: “Bangladesh would like to categorically reiterate that the earliest repatriation of all forcibly displaced Rohingyas back to their ancestral homeland in Rakhine in safety and dignity remains our compelling priority”.

Recently, World Bank has suggested Bangladesh to integrate over 1.20 million Rohingyas in the country while Rohingyas have been long-waiting to return to their homeland – Myanmar for years. In this case, World Bank’s suggestions can be seen as denial of the fundamental and human rights. Integrating Rohingyas would not only create a huge crisis for Bangladesh it may also jeopardize the sovereignty of the country thus endangering the geo-political stability of South Asia.

It may be mentioned here that, Washington-based global lender the World Bank, through concessional lending arms, has gone to bat for Bangladesh to foster its development initiatives since 1972; committing more than US$30 billion by backing priorities in economic, social and infrastructural development. Since 2018, this UN affiliated multilateral body, largest source of financial assistance to developing nations, has committed a total US$590 million grant to support Bangladesh to confront the challenges posed by the influx of the forcibly displaced Rohingya. Recently, this bank has been extensively denounced both by policy wonks and mass people after its proposal, through “Refugee Policy Review Framework” (RPRF), on Rohingya’s integration in Bangladesh.

Four years ago, in late August 2017, “breaking-news” across the world were dominated by the massive influx of Rohingyas to Bangladesh, a result of military-backed bloody “clearance operation”. A 444-page report of the UN’s Independent Fact-Finding Commission substantiated that more than 7,25,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh after this deadly crackdown. The degree of atrocities of this “campaign of terror” embarked on by the military was so intense that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights referred to it as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” whilst other investigators dubbed it as “genocide”. In the first three weeks of August 2017, Bangladesh received more refugees than entire Europe did in 2016 during “Syrian crisis”. Since then, Bangladesh has been generously hosting more than 1.2 million Rohingyas as short-term guests ensuring “safe haven” on humanitarian grounds. Now, Cox’s Bazar based 13 Kilometers long Kutupalong “mega-camp”, the largest refugee settlement camp in the world, is the home to this beleaguered community.

Rohingyas, living in Arakan for thousand years, have been actively involved in Burma’s politics since independence. The recognition of Rohingya as Myanmar’s citizens by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) resolves their identity crisis by providing a legal base. Besides, in the hearing of ICJ, Aung San Suu Kyi defined Rohingyas as Arakan’s Muslims. Myanmar signed two repatriation agreements with Bangladesh in 2018 and 2019 respectively giving consent to take back their citizens. Although these repatriation agreements were in vain due to reluctance of Myanmar, still these agreements are significant proof of Myanmar’s official stance on Rohingyas’ citizenship.

The WB has proposed to review the RPRF for 14 member states, currently hosting refugees, including Bangladesh, for gauging the effectiveness of the grants for the refugees and host communities under its “soft-loan window” International Development Assistance. This global framework, being reviewed triennially, undertaken in cooperation with UNHCR, suggests providing refugees the rights to procure land & property, choose place of residence and freedom of movement, have equal access to the nation’s public service & the labor market etc. like the citizens of the host country.

The WB offered US$2 billion to Bangladesh, if it integrates Rohingya refugees with economic and social rights. The framework is germane for Bangladesh since this move will pave the way for the Rohingyas to become permanent citizens through integration into Bangladesh’s populace. Bangladesh reiterated its stance, by rejecting the proposal outright, stating that Rohingyas are not “refugees” rather “forcibly displaced persons” to whom Bangladesh extended temporary shelter.

The study “Impacts of the Rohingya Refugee Influx on Host Communities” conducted by the UNDP expounded how the overcrowding Rohingyas affected host communities. The major adverse impact includes price hike, increase of poverty, rise in housing cost, reduction in wage rate, deforestation, environmental casualty etc. Moreover, the rise of intragroup and intergroup conflicts in the Rohingya camps shrunk the space of coexistence between the host communities and refugees by recasting the social makeup. This month, August 2021, marks the fourth anniversary of the Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh, but a sustainable solution is yet to be found.

Approximately 166.65 million population of Bangladesh, 8th largest in the world, makes it one of the densely populated countries with 1,125 people in per sq. km. This small country, 92nd in terms of land size, with a total landmass of 147,570 sq. km, slightly smaller than the US Iowa state, is hosting over 1.20 million Rohingyas which is higher than the total population of Bhutan. No country in the world is bearing the burden of so many refugees as by overpopulated Bangladesh.

Bangladesh, under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is trying its level best to ensure decent arrangements for Rohingyas with its limited financial strengths. Despite not being a signatory of 1951 refugee convention, Bangladesh complies with its conditions, i.e., not forcing any Rohingya to go back to Myanmar.

International community needs to pay full attention to this crucial issue and exert influence on Myanmar thus paving the path for an immediate repatriation of the Rohingyas.

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An internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, research-scholar, counter-terrorism specialist, and editor of Blitz. Follow his on Twitter Salah_Shoaib

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