Ever since tensions again escalated between the government of Myanmar and the Rohingya people on October 2016 and the reinvigorated persecution of the minority group that followed, thousands of Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh — the United Nations humanitarian office’s most recent estimate is 69,000. Scores of them have, meanwhile, been seen begging on the streets between Ukhia and Tekhnaf in Cox’s Bazar, as Bangladesh, with its lack of resources, struggled severely to deal with the crisis that Myanmar started.
Fast forward to today, the Bangladesh government on February 5 announced a plan to relocate thousands of Rohingy as stranded on its territory to Thengar Char in Hatiya in the Bay of Bengal. While revealing its plans, the government sought financial support from the UN and the international community for the relocation project. Describing the miserable condition that the Rohingyas are now living in, in the coastal areas of Bangladesh, the Foreign Minister said that the “authorities were facing formidable challenges of providing them with humanitarian assistances”.
Optimistically, he said that the government would develop the remote island where the Rohingyas are planned to be relocated; but many, including foreign diplomats, have already pointed out that “the Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar should not be moved against their will and that the place chosen for relocation was uninhabitable and prone to floods”. This, the Foreign Minister has said is not so. He said that the necessary infrastructure, including shelters, schools, hospitals/health centres, mosques, roads etc. will be built by the government. And that the diplomats could even visit the island once the infrastructure is in place, to see whether the island was habitable or not themselves.
But can this be a permanent solution? Of course not. And the Foreign Minister himself said so. For a permanent solution, the best case scenario would be for Myanmar to take the Rohingyas back, stop persecuting them anymore and provide them with citizenship and basic human rights. Given all that has happened and is happening, however, that, unfortunately, seems highly unlikely. But regardless, it has to be realised that it is the state of Myanmar that is guilty for the current mess and for committing horrific crimes against the Rohingya people.
Even the UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur, Yanghee Lee, last month criticised the Myanmar government’s treatment of the country’s Rohingya minority and said that its defensive reaction, when presented with claims of abuse, is eroding its credibility. These abuses she was referring to include killings, rape, assault, etc. and much more. Unfortunately, for various geostrategic reasons, most countries including the two most influential in this region — India and China — have been very reluctant to condemn Myanmar and to get significantly involved in resolving the Rohingya crisis.
But now that Myanmar’s guilt is becoming ever clearer and the UN itself is speaking out against it, both these regional powers need to get more seriously involved in resolving the crisis. The reason Bangladesh has settled for the current plan proposed by its Foreign Minister is because it is receiving very little help from the international community with regards to the Rohingya crisis. It is almost like Bangladesh too is being punished along with the Rohingyas by Myanmar and its endless persecution and, also, with the international community’s lack of commitment and participation in the matter.
Not only is it unfair, but Bangladesh cannot deal with such a mammoth challenge on its own. It cannot take care of the thousands of Rohingyas that are fleeing to its territories. If things are left as they are, not only will the Rohingyas continue to suffer, but Bangladesh too, would suffer immensely — socio-economically, politically, demographically and environmentally — as its Foreign Minister has already stated.
And this is precisely what the international community and regional players must admit to themselves. From a humanitarian perspective, they owe it to the Rohingyas and the countries that are being destabilised because of what the Myanmar government is doing — including Bangladesh — to work towards a permanent solution. But from a long-term geostrategic perspective, countries in this region also needs to realise that the long-term stability of this region and of their individual countries cannot be ensured and will only be endangered should they allow for the Rohingya persecution to continue and for Rohingya refugees to flood into neighbouring countries. With all that in mind, the international community as a collective must find a permanent solution for the Rohingya people; while it works to implement a temporary one until a permanent solution can be agreed upon, instead of placing the entire burden of responsibility on Bangladesh.
Eresh Omar Jamal is an Editorial Assistant at The Daily Star, Bangladesh, the largest circulating English daily newspaper in Bangladesh. He has a Specialised Honours in Financial and Business Economics from York University, Canada, and can be reached at email@example.com.