In 2018, the United Nations estimates that almost 1 million Rohingya refugees have fled Burma’s violent campaign of ethnic cleansing and moved into refugee settlements in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Yeehang Lee said, the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine “bears the hallmarks of genocide”.
The statement followed the release of images by Amnesty International, which appeared to show razed Rohingya villages being cleared to make way for military use, questioning on Myanmar’s plans to repatriate hundreds of thousands of refugees.
According to a report quoted by Time magazine, more than 43,000 Rohingya parents have been reported lost, presumed dead in the six months since Myanmar’s military unleashed a brutal crackdown last year in August. Citing Bangladeshi government data, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said 28300 Rohingya children lost at least one parent and 7700 lost both parents.
On January 10, 2018, Min Aung Hlaing, the military’s commander in chief said in a Facebook post that on September 2, 2017, soldiers and villagers had confessed to killing 10 suspected Rohingya fighters. Amnesty’s regional director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, James Gomez called the admission a positive development, but said it was “only the tip of the iceberg“.
In another development on January 16, 2018, Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed on the return of nearly 1 million Rohingya Muslims who were persecuted by the Burmese army and the locals. Bangladesh and Myanmar’s foreign ministry said Bangladesh would set up five transit camps on its side of the border. Those camps would send Rohingyas to two reception centres in Myanmar. It was declared that the repatriation process would start from 23rd January and Myanmar said it would build a transit camp that can house 30,000 returnees.
On January 25, 2018, the veteran US diplomat Bill Richardson, a former adviser to the Clinton administration, resigned from an international panel set up by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi to advise on the Rohingya crisis. According to his claim, the panel was a “whitewash” and he also accused Ms Suu Kyi, his long-time friend, of lacking “moral leadership“.
After that resignation, Bill Richardson, on February 15, wrote an article for the Time magazine in which he said that if Myanmar did not ensure the safe return for Rohingyas, the donor governments, and humanitarian agencies should withhold both political and financial support to the hastily planned repatriation process for refugees in Bangladesh. He also urged the West that it must find ways to continue the minimum level engagement so that the situation wouldn’t deteriorate more.
A large number of Myanmar soldiers appeared at the Tambru border fence where thousands of Rohingya refugees have sheltered on March 1, this year. Bangladesh has summoned the Myanmar ambassador over the situation and told neighbouring Myanmar to pull back its troops from their shared border. On March 2nd, Myanmar said they deployed their military contingents due to their ‘internal security’ concerns. The situation at Tambru border point between Bangladesh and Myanmar started to return to normal as Myanmar began withdrawing troops from the area on March 5th.
The event appeared in a time when the Deputy Assistant to U.S. President Donald Trump and the Director for South and Central Asia, Lisa Curtis had been visiting the Rohingya refugee camp. Many believe, the event was carefully orchestrated by Myanmar to make a strategic manoeuvring in order to give a hardliner’s message to Lisa Curtis and the western world. In another development, the officials with Lisa Curtis urged India for working together to provide for the needs of the Rohingyas in Bangladesh. The delegation also wanted India to create pressure on Myanmar so that the Rohingyas could return to their land voluntarily with safety, according to an Indian news outlet, the Hindu.
On March 6th, the UN’s assistant secretary-general for human rights, Andrew Gilmour said that the Myanmar army had been continuing the ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas and he assessed that the government continued ‘the campaign of terror and forced starvation’. In a highly controversial report published on 22nd May 2018, Amnesty International said that it had the evidence that fighters from a Rohingya armed group killed as many as 99 Hindu members of their community on August 25, 2017. The report raised a few crucial questions but the paper did not answer them. The report didn’t clarify why the Hindu Rohingyas fled with the Muslim Rohingyas if Muslim Rohingya armed group killed them and why they did not move more into Burma by taking Burmese shelters instead of taking shelter in Muslim populated Bangladesh.
In the first week of June, Myanmar’s government announced that the country had inked a deal with the United Nations to begin the long process of resettling some of 1 million Rohingyas. It is reported in western media that three parties signed the memorandum of understanding, the U.N. refugee agency, or UNHCR; the U.N. Development Program; and the Burmese government. They had declined to make the text of the agreement available to the public.
Nevertheless, within a month after signing the agreement with two UN agencies, Myanmar fired the military general, Maung Maung Soe, who led the campaign of terror against the Rohingyas. On June 25th, the EU and Canada put seven Myanmar military officers under sanction list for their pivotal role in the violence in Rakhine state. Many believe that the decision to fire Maung Maung Soe was an indicator that the Myanmar government wanted to show the international community that it is making the military accountable for the violence in Rakhine.
The crisis is still mounting on Rohingya refugees who are living in camps in Bangladesh. As the monsoon season brings heavy rains and leading to landslides and floods, the Rohingyas have been facing “a race against time”. It is reported that Twelve people had died so far, with the heaviest rain yet to come. Shelley Thakral, a World Food Programme spokesperson said. “This is an emergency within an emergency.” “It is a race against time – we need to move people to safe locations as fast as we can and make sure they have the food and resources and relief they need to survive,’ she added.
Given the circumstances, the crisis can increase in many folds. Economically, Bangladesh’s economy grew by 7.1 per cent by making outstanding progress toward the Millennium Development Goals. Although the extensive international humanitarian relief has been given to support the Rohingya refugees, that doesn’t cover all the economic burden. The government of Bangladesh and the border region’s Bangladeshi citizens are paying a high price for their humanitarian policies towards the persecuted Rohingyas. From the social context, many fears that extremist networks in Muslim populated Bangladesh and Burma, whether led by hardline Islamist preachers or radical monks, have been gaining influence.
The main tourist destination the coastal town and beaches of Cox’s Bazar is filled with foreign aid workers. Although the area’s hoteliers are prospering, the price hikes for basic goods and about losing work to refugees willing to accept far lower wages are main concerns of the day labourers and locals. On the other hand, the Rohingyas have changed the demographics of Bangladesh’s Ukhia and Teknaf areas, by outnumbering locals 2 to 1. Out of 1 million Rohingyas, 73 per cent are living in new spontaneous settlements, 13 per cent in makeshift settlements, 9 per cent within the host communities, and 5 per cent in the formal refugee camps. Right now, the largest and most densely refugee settlement of the world is Kutupalong camp. According to some experts, the Rohingya birthrate is much higher than that of Bangladeshis risking of malnutrition, disease. They are also vulnerable to trafficking for sex, drugs, and labour. At the same time, the environmental impact of 1 million refugees is grim.
As said by the U.N. Development Program recently released the environmental assessment of the refugee region, there are 28 risk factors threatening biodiversity and human security. During the violent persecution each week some 100,000 Rohingyas were crossing into Bangladesh and for their temporary settlement, thousands of acres of wild elephant inhabited national forests areas were cleared. As far as eyes can see there is no more of the lush, green, hilly landscape, instead, the natural beauty transformed into flattened stretches of red earth covered in tarp tents.
It is being reported by the media that during the monsoon season, the groundwater sources get depleted and freshwater streams have become contaminated. Not only water and natural environment, the Rohingya crisis increases the air pollution in Ukhia and Tekfnaf because of smoke from firewood burned by refugees and exhaust from thousands of trucks, jeeps, and cars bringing people and goods into the camps.
As a representative of Bengali humane civilization, Bangladesh has been trying her best to mitigate the crisis and sheltering the Rohingyas. People all over the world has been applauding Bangladesh for her effort to manage the refugee crisis. But the country has economic, social and security limitation, therefore, she cannot provide support the brutally persecuted Rohingyas for a long period of time.
Such prolongment may cause severe regional geopolitical flashpoint considering the diplomatic engagements of the global players like the US, China, Russia and the regional player India into the crisis. From Bangladesh’s side, robust diplomacy and countering Myanmar’s propaganda are urgent necessities. Apart from geopolitics, Bangladesh should put a glass ceiling to its humanitarian ambition regarding the Rohingya refugees since the country has to take care of her underprivileged demography as well.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.