Making Rohingya settle down  

Shihab Sarkar   | Monday, 16 August 2021

The overtly high enthusiasm of a few Western countries and relevant UN agencies, including a large one, to widen the range of their activities to stand by the Rohingya refugees seems troubling.  These charity steps are feared to invite disastrous consequences for Bangladesh. The Parliamentary (JS) Standing Committee on the Foreign Affairs Ministry on August 12 asked the ministry to remain cautious about these unwarranted efforts. On the day, the JS body discussed in detail a Foreign Ministry report on the sensitive subject --- helping out the Rohingya refugees. In its report, the ministry concerned detected the creation of an atmosphere by the UN and overseas agencies which might appear highly encouraging to the Rohingya refugees. It means the Rohingya might feel inspired to dream about making the land as their own upon the plans' implementation. Meanwhile, the Rohingya repatriation issue will continue to fade away, to finally settle in the regional psyche as a pipedream.

As part of a latent agenda, the report observed, the external quarters in the name of helping the refugees out of the present predicament are probably focused on a distant objective. The Bangladesh Foreign Ministry's observation of the ground reality was scathing. Sensing the plan long in advance, the ministry in its study suggested keeping the various privileges and facilities at the refugee camps limited and rational. A decision to this effect ought to be in place in principle, the report stressed. As reported by a print media outlet, in his observation of the recent developments, the chairman of the JS Standing Committee on the Foreign Ministry has said the committee feels a big UN lending agency has started giving hints.Their goal is they want to see the Rohingya displaced from Myanmar get settled in Bangladesh. These plans are completely unacceptable. The Standing Committee opposes those unequivocally. It has been learnt that the donor agency has formed a set of reform proposals. A striking feature of them is the inclusion of Rohingya refugees in their host country of Bangladesh. Alongside, the donor has formed the 'Refugee Policy Reform Framework-2020'. Under its coverage, it is set to give around 530 million dollars in grant to Bangladesh.

However, the donor agency in a statement on July 3 informed that they have not made any specific proposal to Bangladesh on the Rohingya refugee issue. The refugee policy reform, it added, was formed on the basis of information supplied by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

As days wear on, the issue continues to become complicated and fuzzier. But one thing is clear. To quote the parliamentary committee chairman Faruq Khan, the Myanmar Rohingya refugees have been given only temporary shelter in Bangladesh. Building "concrete houses, providing jobs, creating facilities to buy landed plots" etc cannot be allowed. The committee told the Foreign Ministry, purportedly alluding to the overseas and UN agencies.

At the moment, Bangladesh plays host to900,000 Rohingya. Backed by development partners, the country has long been providing the refugees with all kinds of humanitarian help. Bangladesh has also spent a large volume of its state funds. Amid the imbroglio created over the Rohingya's shelter in Bangladesh, the Foreign Minister sounds quite forthright on his stance. He has asserted unhesitatingly that the Rohingya are Myanmar citizens. They must return to their own country. This is the stand of Bangladesh. There are no scopes for their assimilation with Bangladesh. The thorn which pricks Bangladesh is the intention latent in the headline-grabbing news of the seemingly endless supplies of humanitarian aid to the Rohingya refugees. These supplies do not come from the good Samaritans. Scores of these aid sources nurture the plan of the Rohingya’s absorption with the mainland Bangladesh population --- thus looking to their spread throughout the country. In effect, the plan is set to initially change the demographic structure of many areas in southern and southeastern Bangladesh. The stakeholders overseas may have found in it an easy remedy to the Rohingya refugee deadlock. 

The country already remains overwhelmed by its desperate efforts to stem the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. The country doesn't know how long it will still have to grapple with the issue of hosting the Rohingya refugees. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina allowed the latest influx of the displaced Myanmar citizens to enter the country on pure humanitarian ground. She had the firm belief that the refugees would leave Bangladesh after normalcy returns to that country. The minority Rohingya Muslims had fled military persecution and a reign of terror in their country. Ironically, a civilian government led by the 'democracy icon' Aung San Suu Kyi was in power at the time of the brutal 'ethnic cleansing' operations perpetrated by the Myanmar military. With Suu Kyi remaining silent over the anti-Rohingya campaigns, the army had a field day. They felt they would get away with their savageries. And they did, with little effective protests from the regional and global platforms. The United Nations got engaged in providing assistance to the refugees in the forms of makeshift camps, food, medicine etc. The battered Rohingya’s entry into Bangladesh continued unabated. The number kept swelling.

The recent developments in the Southeast Asian country, with its powerful army grabbing power, have started impacting on Bangladesh both socially and economically. One would also like to add the wide-scale damages being done to the greater Cox's Bazar's environment and ecology by the refugees living outside the designated bounds fixed for them. The refugees' earlier cohesion with the locals is long gone. This being the ground reality, plans for creating a 'Rohingya land' in southeastern Bangladesh carry unmistaken foreboding for the nation.


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