While we have seen some progress towards the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees, most have been nothing more than discussions and theoretical demonstrations assessing what could happen after repatriation.

By Harunur Rasid

However, such slow progress presents a number of challenges, especially for Bangladesh, which has been put in the unfair position of having to look after a million-plus refugee.

As such, what needs to be done has never been clearer: All stakeholders involved must take decisive action to speed up the repatriation of the Rohingya, and this has to be done as soon as possible.

More needs to be done so that peace can be restored in the region — to that end, countries which are interested in the business prospects of countries like Bangladesh have a large part to play.

It is simply unfair that one has to bear the consequences of another country’s genocidal tendencies, but the Rohingya repatriation process needs to be expedited not just for the sake of Bangladesh but for the region at large. To that end, cooperation will be key.

Bangladesh has urged the United Nations, ASEAN, and regional countries to support the pilot repatriation project and help Rohingya returnees reintegrate in Myanmar. Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations in New York, Ambassador Muhammad Abdul Muhith, made the call at a meeting convened by the United Kingdom held at the United Nations Headquarters on Friday.

It is worth mentioning that Bangladesh and Myanmar have decided to undertake a pilot repatriation project under which a group of verified Myanmar nationals will return to their country of origin in the first batch. The repatriation will continue and additional Rohingyas will be repatriated in successive batches.

Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina regime has urged world leaders to ensure the early repatriation of the Rohingya population to their motherland Myanmar to avoid security risks in Bangladesh and globally. She reiterated that the world must act seriously to ensure that the Rohingyas can return to Myanmar as soon as possible. Apart from this, she said, otherwise, the security risk created by the crisis will not be limited only to our borders.

The issue of sheltering the Rohingyas is temporary and Bangladesh’s aim is to send them back to Myanmar safely and with necessary security as soon as possible. The reality is that the initiative has not been successful and it is understood that it will take time to repatriate the Rohingyas. Recently, Bangladesh has launched Joint Response Plan 2023 with UNHCR to deal with the Rohingya-related humanitarian crisis. Accommodating Rohingyas in Bhasanchar is not a permanent solution but a temporary shelter. Above all, the international community should come forward so that the Rohingyas can return to their own country, their own homes. The international community must remember that the failure to honorably return the Rohingya to their homeland in Rakhine would be tantamount to appeasing Myanmar’s injustices. Several initiatives, bilateral and multilateral initiatives by the Bangladesh government are evident in the case of Rohingya return. There is no doubt that new threats to internal security are constantly increasing. However, the situation in the Rohingya camps is becoming more muddled due to internal conflicts. All in all, the southeast region of Bangladesh is in an unstable and fragile situation. In view of all this, any means to take back the Rohingyas cannot be ignored. Various international organizations have been giving different views on these Rohingyas expelled from Myanmar. But so far there has been no solution to this Rohingya problem. None of the initiatives worked, rather the pressure on Bangladesh increased manifold. Although Bangladesh is a small country, it has been providing shelter, food, and medical care to a large number of Rohingyas. Although various international groups have extended their helping hand, it is not enough compared to the need.

Over the last five years, displaced Rohingyas have appeared as a serious burden on the economy and environment of Bangladesh. Bangladesh has been hosting over 1.2 million forcefully displaced Rohingyas and most of them arrived after a military crackdown by Myanmar, which the UN called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Both countries signed a repatriation agreement on November 23, 2017, but five years on, even a single Rohingya have not returned to their motherland in fear of being persecuted upon their return. It needs no emphasizing that voluntary repatriation of the Rohingyas is the most viable and durable solution to the crisis. However, the repatriation attempt failed twice in November 2018 and August 2019 amid the Rohingyas’ lack of trust in the Myanmar government. We expect a more vigorous role of the international community on the diplomatic front to compel Myanmar to take back forcibly displaced Rohingyas

Bangladesh wants to resolve the Rohingya crisis through peaceful negotiation and the country expects similar reciprocity from Myanmar and the international community. In order to make voluntary repatriations happen, Myanmar has to ensure that Rohingya refugees will not be persecuted upon their return. To this end, the international community and the UN should exert their influence on Myanmar to create a conducive environment so that the Rohingya refugees can return to their homeland with safety, security, and dignity. We expect a more vigorous role of the international community on the diplomatic front to compel Myanmar to take back forcibly displaced Rohingyas.

It is alleged that Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar have turned into hotbeds of crime. According to media reports, criminal gangs, active in the camps, often lock into bloody confrontations over control of markets, Yaba smuggling, and human trafficking.

Also, Rohingyas have been engaged in serious confrontations with locals over the supremacy of drug smuggling. The authorities concerned should take necessary measures to beef up security as much as possible and catch the perpetrators, especially the gangs that are carrying out criminal activities.

However, unless steps are taken to repatriate the Rohingya back to Myanmar, the crisis threatens to spiral out of control and destabilize the region at large, and it is already apparent due to the rise of a number of resistance and militant outfits in the camps. Such a crisis also acts as a breeding ground for illegal operations such as the narcotics trade, which not only poses a threat to the region but also to the safety of the Rohingya refugees. In this case, we will also request our neighboring friendly countries to stand by Bangladesh in dealing with this global crisis. The world cannot dally on this issue any longer.

Harunur Rasid is a London-based Bangladeshi expatriate who is a Bangladesh and Myanmar affairs observer, analyst, and researcher.