At a time when the funds for the Rohingyas are dwindling, and when the international community has grown apparently less interested in safeguarding the community, the sustainable course of action that the international community should undertake is the safe and dignified repatriation of the Rohingyas through international mechanisms. Mohammad Rafiul Hassan writes in details on how much efforts are being put in by the international communities in this regard.
It’s been more than five years since the Myanmar military carried out its most recent genocidal campaign against the Rohingyas, forcing around a million of them to flee to Bangladesh in search of safety. For a resource-constrained country like ours, hosting so many of refugees for over five years has been a great challenge indeed. Bangladesh has always informed the international community about its adverse effects, as well as seeking support and cooperation in the repatriation of Rohingyas.
Bangladesh’s permanent representative to United Nations Ambassador Rabab Fatima addressed the UN General Assembly in last June, urging the UN to expand its programme to return the forcibly displaced Rohingyas back to Myanmar and to ensure that the bilateral return arrangements for Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh are implemented as soon as possible. Bangladesh’s representative to the UN looked to be quite explicit in her speech. The international community is also trying to create pressure after the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution in June calling for the swift repatriation of the Rohingya. However, the attempts taken by the international community were not adequate in the past.
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CONDITION IN RAKHINE
For those hoping for repatriation, the hope of repatriation seems slim so far. Refugees cannot be sent back without guarantees of safe and humane treatment in accordance with international law. In this regard, they have not yet created such a security situation in Rakhine, according to the international community. “As soon as the situation is favorable only then will we facilitate voluntary, orderly, safe and dignified repatriation. But the current situation is not suitable for their repatriation.” said EU Spokeswoman Nabila Massarali.
The exact situation regarding Rakhine state is not being disclosed to the international community by Myanmar. The reality is that many areas of Myanmar are not controlled by the military government. These are controlled by ethnic armed organizations where they have been involved in conflict with national authorities for ages. The exact situation regarding Rakhine state is not being disclosed to the international community by Myanmar. The reality is that many areas of Myanmar are not controlled by the military government.
These are controlled by ethnic armed organizations where they have been involved in conflict with national authorities for ages. The conflict is gradually increasing in the southern part of Rakhine state from where the Rohingyas fled and took refuge in Bangladesh. “The Arakan Army (AA) has worked assiduously in the past two years to build up their political autonomy, and that is completely unacceptable to the military regime,” said Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National College in Washington, DC.
Since the AA has a sphere of influence in Rakhine, their cooperation is needed in the repatriation of the Rohingya. According to the analysts, the political wing of the ethnic militia group, the United League of Arakan, dominates many of Rakhine’s administrative regions. And after long-striving for self-rule, they are seeing a change in their positive attitude towards the Rohingyas.
AA chief Tun Myat Naing expressed his desire to take the Rohingyas back to Rakhine. Their motive behind expressing such desire may be to get their legitimacy and help from the international community.
Myanmar expert Kironska said, “For the Rohingyas, paradoxically, the coup and the emergence of the AA (in conflict with the military) have opened a one-in-a-century opportunity – an opportunity for peacebuilding in Rakhine”. According to her, now the question is whether the international states and organizations will be involved with the AA in repatriating the Rohingyas. EU Spokesperson Massrali said Brussels has so far had no contact with the AA in Myanmar on the process of repatriation of Rohingyas and has no plan to establish relations to that end”. But a source on condition of anonymity said the bloc’s discussions with the AA included talks on repatriation of Rohingyas. The international communities are very cagy in establishing relations with the rebels group, but what they have done so far is our area of concern.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, Myanmar should allow international organisations to work in the Rakhine state to create an appropriate environment for the dignified return of the forcibly displaced Rohingyas. Experts are of the view that the international community needs to work more vigorously with Bangladesh to repatriate the Rohingyas to their homeland. Large-scale sanctions against Myanmar’s government officials by influential countries are necessary to put pressure on Myanmar. Director of the Centre for Genocide Studies at Dhaka University and Professor of International Relations of Dhaka University, Dr. Imtiaz Ahmed said in a seminar recently that it is high time to talk about the return of Rohingyas. They will not live in Bangladesh only; other countries will also have to take responsibility as well. The initiatives taken by international communities favouring the causes of Rohingyas are discussed below:
In November 2019, Gambia, on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), filed the first international lawsuit against Myanmar with the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing the latter of violating the UN Genocide Convention. The ICJ in July 2022 ruled that Gambia’s genocide case against Myanmar would proceed despite latter’s preliminary objections. According to academics and rights campaigners, the ICJ ruling has opened up fresh opportunities for the international community to put pressure on the Myanmar military to provide justice for the Rohingyas. Nevertheless, the final ruling in the case could take years.
Although the resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly on 18 June 2021 regarding Myanmar mentioned many issues including the country’s democratic problems, there were no instructions regarding any concrete solution to the Rohingya crisis. No action by the UN was visible in the implementation of the resolution adopted on the Rohingya issue at the 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council on 12 July 2021. UN Special Envoy of the Secretary General on Myanmar Noeleen Heyzer has stressed the need for international and regional commitments to share burden and ensure that the Rohingyas are not forgotten.
She said Bangladesh continues to show great generosity and leadership in hosting refuges, which requires renewed international attention and equitable burden sharing by countries in the region and beyond. She said, “My message today is that we all must do more to give the Rohingya people greater hope and not allow the sense of being forgotten and abandoned, to take their right to live in dignity as human beings must be supported and safeguarded by all of us, including the international community.”
US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has said they are working to “significantly increase resettlement of Rohingya” refugees from the region, including from Bangladesh, so that they can rebuild their lives in the United States. Reaffirming support, Blinken said the United States remains committed to advancing justice and accountability for Rohingyas and all the people of Myanmar.
On July 16, 2019 Washington sanctions Myanmar’s army chief and three other top officers. The US on March 21 declares that the 2017 violence amounted to genocide, saying there was clear evidence of an attempt to “destroy” the Rohingyas.
Thirteen foreign missions in Bangladesh, including that of the US and the UK, called for an end to the ‘culture of impunity’ in Myanmar and reiterated their commitment to international accountability initiatives for the genocide committed against the Rohingya people. “We call for an end to the culture of impunity in Myanmar and reiterate our commitment to international accountability initiatives for the terrible acts committed against Rohingya” reads a joint statement by the Embassies and High Commissions in Dhaka on 25 August. In a joint statement, they also said they continue to raise the plight of the Rohingyas on the international stage and seek solutions that would allow for the Rohingyas’ voluntary, safe and dignified return to Myanmar as soon as conditions allow.
The missions said they have imposed sanctions on some individuals responsible for serious human rights violations against Rohingyas and would continue to push for a solution. They also committed to continue to work together with Bangladesh, UN, national and international partners to ensure that Rohingyas receive humanitarian assistance, protection and education.
The UK’s foreign, Commonwealth and Development office in another statement said it imposed new sanctions against Myanmar’s military-linked companies to target the military’s access to arms and revenue. “Our decision to intervene in the Gambia Vs Myanmar case and a further round of sanctions sends a strong signal of our continued support to seek accountability for the atrocities in 2017 and also restrict the military Junta’s access to finance and the supply of arms” UK Minister for Asia Amanda Milling said in the statement. At the same time, the UK confirmed its intention to intervene in The Gambia V. Myanmar International Court of Justice Case to support international justice. Since 2017, the UK has provided 330 million British Pound in aid to the Rohingya camps, supporting food needs, shelter, sanitation, education, medical and protection services.
ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) and member of Indonesian house of Representatives, Mercy Barends said, “the sad truth is that, by and large, the international community has failed the Rohingya. It is crying shame that, so far, the global community has only provided a meagre 13% of the Joint Response Plan adopted by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to fund the camps”. He pointed out that ASEAN member states should stop treating the Rohingya in their countries as illegal immigrants, and start providing them with protection they deserve and need as refugees. He said, Bangladesh cannot cover on its own the needs of about one million Rohingya refugees.
At a seminar on the Rohingya crisis in Dhaka, Japanese Ambassador to Bangladesh Ito Naoki said his country is considering further possibilities of Rohingya resettlement in Japan with the UNHCR guidance. Japan is planning to start skills development training for the Rohingyas. He also mentioned the Japanese plan to host some Rohingyas under a third-country initiative.
According to international relations analysts, Myanmar faces a higher level of pressure because of the verdict of the International Court of Justice that it can pursue the Gambia’s genocide case and the US declaration of violence against Rohingya as genocide. Also, Myanmar faces more pressure from the western world for the restoration of democracy while the National Unity Government (NUG), formed in exile by the MPs of the Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy (NLD) following the coup in February last year, keeps lobbying various countries for support.
According to international relations analysts, Myanmar faces higher level of pressure because of the ICJ verdict that it can pursue the Gambia’s genocide case and the US declaration of violence against Rohingya as genocide. Also, Myanmar faces more pressure from the western world for restoration of democracy while the National Unity Government (NUG), formed in exile by the MPs of the Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy (NLD) following the coup in February last year, keeps lobbying various countries for support. The NUG also announced that it would grant Rohingyas equal rights as enjoyed by all citizens of Myanmar.
On the other hand, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said, Bangladesh is bearing the burden of sheltering the Rohingyas, and a lack of strong action from the international community is prolonging the problem. Momen said the presence of ASEAN and international actors in Rakhine state can help build confidence of Rohingyas for smooth operations.
Dr. Nasir Uddin, refugee expert and a professor at the Chittagong University said in the media, “International community always says that they will be there and they will look at the issue. They maintain the diplomatic norms but, on the ground, they do not take any effective measures.”
SUPPORTS ARE NOT ENOUGH
The support from the international community has been and is crucial in delivering lifesaving protection and assistance services for Rohingya refugees, but funding is well short of the needs. Mercy Barends said, “The 2022 Response Plan’ seeks over $881 million for more than 1.4 million people, including Rohingya refugees and more than half a million most-affected host communities, and is so far funded at only 49%, with $426.2 million received.
Bangladesh Red Crescent Society said, the protracted crisis now stands with a colossal number of displaced people in the camp, who are completely reliant on humanitarian assistance to meet their everyday needs in the world’s largest camp in Cox’s Bazar. Secretary General of Bangladesh Red Crescent Kazi Shofiqul Azam said to media, “The crisis had already tipped into a complex protracted displacement crisis a while ago. Top priorities must go to long-term solutions, balancing the initiatives in the camps and to the neighbouring host community. We are calling for long-term commitment and resources that are very much needed to address the crisis.
After visiting the camps in Cox’s Bazar recently, Jan Egeland, the Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council and a former United Nation’s Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, said, “The Rohingya crisis has reached a tipping point, and refugees are fast approaching the point of no return. A new initiative, led by the United Nations, ASEAN and China, must enable possibilities for safe return without relay.”
The UNHCR has appealed for further investment from the international community to ensure that the Rohingya refugees can benefit through skill development. This will prepare them for rebuilding their lives when they can voluntarily and safely return to Myanmar. Together, the UNHCR said, the international community must do more to ensure that the Rohingyas do not continue to languish in displacement and redouble efforts for increased political dialogue and diplomatic engagement to create conditions for voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return. In the same vein, expressing a hopeful view, Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen said, “We cannot continue to shelter them…. we hope the repatriation will begin before the year ends.
INTERNATIONAL AND CORPORATE INTEREST
The reality is that there are various economic projects undertaken by countries like China, India, and Russia around this Rakhine state. These include China’s ‘Belt and Road’ project, The long Myanmar-China oil and gas pipeline project, including the construction of a deep sea port, India’s Kaladan multi-purpose project, two hydropower projects, a four-lane highway connecting Myanmar, Thailand and India, Russian oil notable projects include the investment by the company Bashneft, the establishment of the Japanese government’s planned economic zone near Maungdoo, Rakhine.
The Myanmar government is working diligently to implement these projects. Repatriation of Rohingyas to Rakhine State could derail such economic plans. It should not be left to be understood, Myanmar continues to politicize the situation in Rakhine state. For the past five years, various speculations have been going on about the repatriation of Rohingyas.
To end with, Bangladesh sheltered the Rohingyas on humanitarian ground despite a myriad of challenges the country has to face – poverty, unemployment and disaster-like phenomenon that displace thousands of people almost every year. In contrast, Myanmar has showed little interest in repatriating the refugees in dignity and with full citizenship rights. Thus, at a time when the funds for the Rohingyas are dwindling, and when the international community has grown evidently disinterested in safeguarding the community, the sustainable course of action that the international community should undertake is the safe and dignified repatriation of the Rohingyas through international mechanisms.
The international community, particularly the UN members, has a tremendous humanitarian responsibility and commitment to Rohingya refugees. The world community must awaken from its slumber and see that the man-made crisis was not caused by Bangladesh, but rather by Myanmar’s internal turmoil, which was unfairly imposed on Bangladesh. Apart from the UN member states, regional countries and Myanmar’s strategic partners like China, India, Russia, Japan, Indonesia, and Germany, ASEAN and OIFC countries must also step up to put pressure on Myanmar to help solve the humanitarian situation seriously. It is time for coordinated and courageous actions. Countries in the region must share the responsibility for hosting refugees.