Rohingya crisis: Albatross around the nation's neck?

Shihab Sarkar | Published: September 14, 2017 20:55:08 | Updated: October 25, 2017 00:45:14

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres addressed a press conference on september 13, 2017 on the eve of UN General Assembly session. - Reuters photo

Calling the recent flare-up of the simmering Rohingya refugee crisis a national debacle for Bangladesh is gross understatement. Keeping all its dreadful implications for the country in view, it had better be called a bolt from the blue.


In Myanmar, with democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi being at the Myanmar's helm, albeit notionally, the persecuted Rohingyas eagerly looked forward to her for working out a solution to the generations-old ethnic persecution. They firmly believed she was capable of bringing national cohesion healing the schism between the Rohingya Muslims and the mainstream Buddhist Myanmarese. So did Bangladesh, only to be disillusioned.


The depressing atmosphere in Myanmar's Rakhine state eventually gave rise to Rohingya insurgency under Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), and the government security forces let loose violent acts and repression on the province's ethnic minority group. Since August 25, around 400,000 Rohingyas have been forced to flee their country and seek refuge in Bangladesh.


The long saga of Rohingya persecution in Myanmar and their fleeing the country has nothing to do with Bangladdesh. But due to its being a close neighbour, the Rohingya refugees in large numbers have been illegally crossing into this country. The influx of Rohingya refugees began in the 1990s, since when the country has been grappling with the problem of Rohingya refugees.. With few nations interested in actively helping Bangladesh overcome the crisis, the country had to take upon itself the task of sheltering and feeding the refugees. However, eventually different UN bodies and the global networks of charities came forward to share the burden. Hundreds of permanent and temporary refugee camps were set up in the hilly border areas in the country's southwest.


Registration of the new refugees has been introduced. Although the government, in collaboration with international agencies and aid groups, has tried to keep surveillance on the refugees, many remained unregistered. Tactfully remaining out of the complex repatriation process, these former refugees over the years got engaged in activities detrimental to the refugee camps' atmosphere. Many have allegedly fled to overseas destinations posing as Bangladeshi passport holders. In reality, Bangladesh has been drawn into a difficult situation in which it never had any stakes.


International parleys by Bangladesh on the crisis have already begun this time also. At a meeting on the sidelines of an Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) summit last week, Bangladesh President Md Abdul Hamid has talked about his country's proposal for creating a 'safe zone' for Rohingya refugees on the Bangladesh-Myanmar no man's land. He was discussing the issue with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Bangladesh President suggested that the initiatives for the 'safe zone' be taken by the UN, the OIC and other international organisations.


Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has explained, Bangladesh considers it to be a duty to stand by the latest phase of Rohingya influx as it has become a humanitarian crisis. She has, however, taken a tough stance and asked Myanmar to take back all the Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh. The problem has been created by Myanmar. That's why it should be resolved by that country, she said in Parliament last week. The premier echoed her assertive position while visiting Rohingya refugees' registered camps in Cox's Bazar on September 12.


In terms of geopolitical magnitude, the crisis seems to be destined to go beyond the confines of Bangladesh. Given the alarming speed at which the Rohingya refugee deadlock is assuming a volatile character, the world may have little time to act before it snowballs into a regional imbroglio.  Moreover, the global theatre has been on constant change. Or else, the responses of many a powerful nation to the refugee crisis would not have been this fast and filled with far-reaching potential. The strong stance taken by the US seems a pointer to this. The Trump administration has been calling upon Myanmar to arrive at a peaceful solution to the crisis since the very beginning. Lately, the US government began stressing the implementation of the recommendations of the Annan Commission, an international probe led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at the invitation San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's State Counsellor. Parliament members and higher-level government spokespersons in dozens of major countries including the European Union (EU) continue to urge Myanmar to take expeditious steps to solve the crisis. Nations and world forums have called upon the UN to include the Rohingya issue in the agenda of the forthcoming UN General Assembly. The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday called the 'cruel military operation' against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar's Rakhine state a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. Meanwhile, twelve Nobel laureates, including Dr Muhammad Yunus, and 18 other global figures on September 13 called upon the UN Security Council (UNSC) to act immediately to end the Rohingya crisis.


The influx of the displaced Roningyas continues unabated. There is the crux. Geopolitical experts fear the spread of the diaspora of the hounded Rohingyas from Myanmar may suck in countries not involved in the mayhem.  What is most panicking is the potential the crisis carries for spiralling out of control and eventually provoking unwarranted diplomatic tiffs in large swathes of Asia.


Although the crisis has long been straining ties between Myanmar and Bangladesh, it assumed its murky, explosive face only recently. Its distressing ripples and ramifications have actually begun to be felt acutely since August 25.  That very day and in the following days the minority Rohingyas saw the start of a veritably state-sponsored reign of extreme forms of savageries unleashed on them. Rights groups and the media have termed the brutalities 'pogrom' or 'genocide', while a lot of others have viewed the persecution as a veritable 'ethnic cleansing'.


Rohingya refugees continue to flee to south-eastern Bangladesh trekking along a few hundred miles. Their overall plight and day-to-day miseries, dominated by hunger and acute lack of shelter, are still hitting headlines in the world media. With the situation declining for the worse by the day, condemnation of the Myanmar Army's atrocities on its Rohingya citizens continues to be whipped up across the world. However, there is a flip side. Rhetoric appears to outshine action.  To the misgivings of many, the unresolved Rohingya issue may soon start showing signs of fissure among nations having stakes in the crisis. Propitiously, the United Nations, non-government aid agencies, human rights groups and lots of other forums continue to express their concern over the issue with ever more forthrightness. Many have already swung into action. Parliaments in many UN member-countries, including the US, the UK and the EU, came down hard on the Myanmar government, especially the de facto head of state Aung San Suu Kyi. Many activists are demanding she be stripped of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize. Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu was among the first world figures to condemn Myanmar for its Rohingya persecution. However, a few big and regional powers in Asia have adopted a measured stance.


Given the complex ethno-cultural composition of the Rohingyas and the increasing hostility towards them in today's Myanmar, the present crisis may not be over with emergency mediations alone. The spectre of occasional flare-ups remains looming. The ever changing world order may have to brace for unforeseen developments.



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