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Rohingya refugees: Will they go back?

| Updated: October 25, 2017 05:26:38

Rohingya refugees: Will they go back?

Rohingya Muslim refugees wait in a line for aid in Cox’s Bazar recently.

The Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority in Myanmar, has been being pushed out from their homeland for decades. There had been 1.2 million refugees sheltered in a few neighbouring countries until August 25 last. Persisting violence compelled 40 per cent of the remaining 1.1 million Rohingyas to flee into Bangladesh in only three weeks. Myanmar security forces launched the latest 'clearance operation' on August 25 responding to attacks allegedly by Rohingya militants on police outposts. Many Buddhist extremists have also joined security forces in the campaign of systematic burning in north Rakhine, as stated by the Amnesty International. Even a spokesman of the Myanmar President has narrated that 176 out of 471 ethnic villages have turned empty in three townships. Will they drive Rohingyas out of the homeland within a few months?
The army chief of Myanmar on September 17 called upon their people to unite against the Rohingyas. However, history attests to the fact that Myanmar (formerly Burma) never sheltered Rohingyas as 'Bengali migrants'. But they are now pushing them out calling them 'Bengali Muslims'. The Burmese under the British rule took an opportunity to 'drive away Bengalis' during the World War II in 1942. Subsequent military-led aggressions year after year led many Rohingyas to fight for an independent 'Islamic Republic of North Arakan'. The civilian fighters were resisted through 'Operation Dragon King' in 1978, which pushed out hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people. Though Bangladesh was successful in sending 200,000 refugees back, the international watchdog failed to ensure safety, security and even citizenship of the Rohingya people. Whatever the past was, no amount of historical research can justify the current violence, says Jonathan Saha, an eminent historian for Southeast Asia.
The security forces have tried to justify all of their operations including the current one with an international catchy term 'war against Islamist terrorism'. However, analysts all over the world have explained the crisis as 'more political than religious'. Peace lovers worldwide are astonished to see the unbelievable stand of a Nobel Peace Prize laureate supporting the catastrophic violence. Myanmar leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was not hesitated to present herself as power-hungry in her speech on September 25. The Amnesty International has criticised her by saying she was 'burying head in sand' overlooking crimes against humanity. The reality here is she has practised Buddhism in political discourses, capitalism in business negotiation and utilitarianism in government formation. Hence, Bangladesh Prime Minister expects her not to stand against military but to understand the evidences of Rohingya habitation there for centuries. Sheikh Hasina wishes Suu Kyi will recognise Rohingyas as Myanmar citizens.
The international criticism like the 'textbook example of ethnic cleansing' as commented by the UN has created reactions around the world. However, China and Russia are supporting Myanmar ignoring the evidences of violence highlighted by UN agencies, human rights watchdogs and international media. What is behind the crisis is the oil economics and land-grab politics. China is not only the largest investor in Myanmar but also has control over mineral resources. India has not that much investment but has relentless pursuit of accessing the resources. Both the countries have got access to the Bay of Bengal by implementing their connectivity projects. Will Myanmar gain from giving them the vacant land confiscated from Rohingyas? Its answer seems to be negative as the country could not gain from selling oil and gas earlier. Only military ties have kept the government happy! Who will make the government understand the fact that domestic tensions benefit outsiders? If Suu Kyi can realise it, she will not only accept Rohingyas but also stop violence against any of the 135 ethnic groups.
However, the settlement of the Rohingya crisis largely depends on the weapon suppliers. How long will China, India and Russia be blinded by corporate and strategic interests? Have they forgotten that they are also big trade and investment partners of Bangladesh? We have the highest trade deficit of US$ 6.881 billion with China. It is selling even 'toys lasting for one day'. We have the second highest trade deficit with neighbouring India. Will not any unethical practice put China far off its slogan 'Asia for Asians'? How does India want to present itself? We expect the next generation leaders to be judicious like England, the Unites States, France, Canada, the European Union and many other countries in resolving the Rohingya crisis.
Bangladesh has shown colossal humanity accepting half a million new Rohingya people even after being affected by four disasters this year. So far it has sheltered a half of the 1.6 million Rohingya refugees across the world. Early entrants did cost us a lot engaging in careless destructions, occupancies and smuggling. How many of the 300,000 early entrants remain in refugee camps? Some Rohingyas have managed citizenship of Bangladesh even. Hasn't a group of brokers helped them spread around? This time, the government initiated biometric registration for newcomers to refrain them from mixing with common people. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina seems to have taken a meticulous strategy for 'sustainable return' of Rohingyas. Hasn't she maintained affable diplomacy against antagonistic diplomacy of Myanmar? She has used the opportunity of building consensus among global leaders. She has presented her five-point proposal in the UN to end the Rohingya crisis. We are waiting for expeditious UN and global interventions to make Myanmar ready to accept their citizens.
Even after Myanmar's readiness to receive Rohingyas, difficulties may appear with readiness of Rohingyas to go back. Ziauddin Chowdhury, former deputy commissioner of greater Chittagong, has described his experiences on Rohingyas' unwillingness to return in 1978. The returnees at that time were Myanmar citizen who stayed here for a few months. On the other hand, the refugees this time are not citizens of either country and have experiences of violence and genocide in the Rakhine state. What will assure them that no violence and push-out will happen again? Moreover, vested interest groups, who are benefitting from handling the Rohingya issue, will de-motivate them. Won't they show firm unwillingness to return home as their wealth has been destroyed and occupied? What is urgent is bilateral and multilateral negotiations for resolving all related problems. This dream will not come true without active participation of the UN agencies and global leaders in helping the Rohingyas return home.
Dr. M. Aminul Islam Akanda is Associate Professor of the Department of Economics at Comilla University.
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