Written by Major Mohammad Akther Hossain (Retd)
Rohingya crisis, unlike any other civilian crisis, is a complex mix of religion, politics and disputed history of origin. It is an example of long and tumultuous history of world’s largest most persecuted, displaced by decades-long human rights abuses and now stateless population, who continue to face traumatic attitude from its own government... ...
After the recent military operation in 2017 by the Myanmar Government, so far, more than one million Rohingya out of approximate two millions, have already been displaced from Myanmar to outward world, mainly, in neighboring countries like Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Australia while others have been stranded on the Andaman Sea etc. Out of these migrations, the most Rohingya exodus took place to Bangladesh after a severe crackdown by Myanmar military against Rohingya in the name of "Cleansing Operation" at Rakhine State. The aim of this operation is to annihilate Rohingya community, especially Muslim Rohingas, from Rakhine State totally. There are many ethnic groups, for example, Chin, Shan, Karen, Karenni, Mon are also fighting for their own rights, identity and freedom, but those ethnic groups are not been targeted by the Myanmar Government to be annihilated forever from the lands of Myanmar but Rohingya. Thereby, a question comes: who these Rohingya are and why Myanmar Government does not recognize them as part of their citizen? Or, what is the greater benefit derived out of these ethnic group, Rohingya, if ousted from Myanmar?
Myanmar does not recognize Rohingya as one of their ethnic community and they narrate them as part of Bangladeshi Bengali. In 2012 following the rape of a Buddhist woman allegedly by a Muslim man, prompted massive religious violence against the Rohingya, forcing 140,000 of them into camps for internally displaced people. After lots of International pressures, the military government somehow agreed to grant the Rohingya a reduced form of citizenship if they registered themselves as Bengali, and not as Rohingya. Thereby, one major question might arise that what is the reason that Myanmar wants them to be enrolled as Bengali? And what would happen if the Muslim Rohingya is enrolled as citizen of Myanmar instead of the name of Bengali? For the Myanmar government, the word Rohingya is particularly fraught. This is because if the government acknowledges Rakhine’s Muslims as members of the Rohingya ethnic group, then under the 1982 citizenship law, the Muslims would be allowed an autonomous area within the country. And therein lies the crux of the problem: The Myanmar fear a Rohingya autonomous area along the border with Bangladesh would come at the expense of Rakhine territory. The Myanmar military, which has cracked down on Rohingya civilians in recent years, views this as a possible staging area for terrorism by groups like Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).
Bangladesh has (unwillingly) provided refuge to several Rohingyas since 1978, when the first riot broke out in the Rakhine state in the west of Myanmar. Although both during 1978 and 1992, UN intervention led to repatriation of a significant number of Rohingyas back to Myanmar, but still then there are several who stayed back. During 2017-2018, so far, approximately more than 800,000 Rohingya have already been displaced and migrated to nearby country, Bangladesh. Initially, Bangladesh didn't want to shelter these fleeing exoduses of Rohingya but when such exodus starts, it really becomes very difficult to control and stop the process. Hence, Bangladesh, being the bordering country had to allow them in. But Bangladesh is not in a position to accommodate such huge exodus both financially and other administrative supports. Bi-lateral discussions are taking place between Myanmar and Bangladesh to settle it down. From Myanmar side, it is told that, these Rohingya are not citizen of Myanmar but Bangladesh. They belong to Bengali settlers in Myanmar. Thereby, until and unless, these issues are settled, Myanmar is unwilling to repatriate a single Rohingya back to Myanmar. This is a really now big problem for Bangladesh. Naturally, a question arises, what would be the fate of such huge Rohingya in case the problem sustains longer and in what category these huge quantities of Rohingya would stay in Bangladesh and how long they would stay in Bangladesh? Temporarily, many of the World bodies are also concerned about Rohingya crisis and extending their hands both diplomatic and to support financially against their daily needs including shelters. But, what is the permanent solution for these stateless people of Rohingya? What if the settlement issue is not successful for further repatriation to Myanmar?
At the moment, bi-lateral dialogues along with International pressure between Bangladesh and Myanmar, have been continuing to Myanmar to repatriate these Rohingya back by giving them a status of citizenship but it seems, Myanmar is reluctant to do so under the pretention of many alibis. Circumstantial attitudes reflect Myanmar is happy getting rid of Rohingya out of country whatever the approaches ever. Now they are wasting time for all kinds of negotiations, discussions, thus, making delay as much as possible. It seems that, Myanmar is not willing to accept these Rohingya as their citizen at all in future. Further analysis resemblance that even under International pressure or bi-lateral discussion between Bangladesh, if Myanmar has to accept few of the Rohingya as their citizen, they think, later the settlement, better for Myanmar. Thus, Myanmar would make the issue hanging as long as possible keeping away the whole Rohingya people out of Myanmar. Though International bodies like UN, UNHCR, WB, ADB and other regional powers as well as great powers trying to get involved to make a solution, but the progress is not much visible yet.
Whatever is the situation, under the humanitarian ground, Bangladesh already had to leave a good chunk of space temporarily at Bhasanchor under Noakhali District to build necessary houses and other administrative arrangements for these displaced Rohingya but how long these semi-temporary arrangements are going to be last long? What, if these mass quantity of Rohingya, who are not part of Bangladesh population, do not be repatriated back to Myanmar, then, what are the consequences or effects would be on our total Nation? Will these excess outsiders Rohingya people going to be a threat against our National sovereignty? Will not these stateless people try to fight back to restore their ancestors land? If so, will it not affect bi-lateral relationship with Myanmar and Bangladesh in future when these Rohingya people would continue to fight against Myanmar staying inside our territory to restore their rights? There can be many more concerns in relation to these Rohingya people inside Bangladesh.
With the above situation, this paper will search within the scope of:
The limitation of this paper is that as there are no clear evidences or records against creation of many ethnic communities of Myanmar, hence, at times, it might be confused that sources of information might clash with one source to another. But I tried to take the most authenticated information so far recorded at various historical archives regarding Myanmar history and its ethnic communities.
BRIEF HISTORY OF MYANMAR
Republic of the Union of Myanmar which was earlier known as Burma, is a sovereign state in Southeast Asia, bordered by India and Bangladesh to its west, Thailand and Laos to its east and China to its north and northeast. In Myanmar, there are more than 135 Ethnic Communities. Each has its own history, culture and language. Today over 80 per cent of Burma’s people are Buddhist and the country has the largest number of monks as a percentage of the total population. If we go back to the history of earlier Burma (present Myanmar), we will notice that there were many transformations took place from the inception of its birth till this day in terms of its creation, rulings and civilization process.
Colonial historians claimed that its earliest civilizations had been founded under Indian influence and could not date back much beyond 500 CE. However, further research indicates that civilization in Burma’s Irrawaddy valley is very old and nearing 3,500 years ago. In the beginning of second century BC, the earliest inhabitants of Myanmar established City-States in the central Myanmar. Its inhabitants, Pyu, were farming rice, raising livestock and using bronze implements. In the fourth century, however, this civilization underwent its defining moment when it adopted South India’s Theravada style of Buddhism.
By the ninth century a group of people from the north, the Bamar, gained prominence and founded the powerful kingdom of Pagan (today’s Bagan). Old City-States gave way to a more unified administration, which reached its apogee during the reign of king Anawrahta (or Aniruddha) that successfully unified all of Burma by mid of ninth century. Thereafter, by 9th century, with the collaboration of other inhabitants, several City-States were sprouted in Myanmar where Pyu people settled in the central dry zone, Mon people settled along the Southern coastline and Arakans settled along the Western littoral and the Barma people founded a small settlement at Bagan.
During 11th century, Bagan gradually grew to absorb its surrounding City-States and founded the Pagan Kingdom, the first ever unification of the region. In the beginning of 13th century, another Empire known as Khemer Empire, who were very influential and who ruled mainland Southeast Asia. Both these Pagan Empire and Khemer Empire had been ruling the area and grew cultural domination over Pyu, Mon and others. By end of 13th century around 1297, a neighboring Myinsaing Kingdom who had managed to fend off the Mongol invasions, had taken over and the area was split into four smaller kingdoms as Ava, Hanthawaddy, Shan States and Arakan. This became a turbulent period, with rebellions and external attacks. Until 1599, there was little stability in the region, where the country was reunified as a Restored Taungoo Kingdom (which included some areas of current Thailand and China). The then King, Thalun, rebuilt the chaotic country and ordered the first census in 1635, introduced a legal and political system, as well as appointing governorships to the Irrawaddy valley. This stability created a prosperous economy for almost a century, and the kingdom was at peace for the most of what remained of the 17th century.
After the fall of Taungoo, King Alaungpaya, the leader of the Kongbaung, went on to reunite Burma, making the largest empire in its history. King Bodawpaya (the fourth son of Alaungpaya), increase the size of his empire by several invasions and conquering Arakan, Manipur and Assam, which now gave them a border with British India. In 1819, King Bagyidaw, (Bodawpaya’s grandson and next on the throne) was faced with several rebellions in Manipur, instigated by the British who protected the Indian territories of the border. This led to a series of three Anglo-Burmese Wars between 1824 and 1886. Each resulted in further control of Burma by the British Empire, which ended in the annexation of Upper Burma and the entire country becoming a province of India under the control of the British Raj in 1886. The British named its new colony as "Burma". But resistance to British rule continued.
During WW2, the administration of Burma was separated from India and the new leader, Aung Sun sided initially with Japanese with a deal to be free-Burma from British. But with the Japanese invasion of Burma in 1942, Aung San then quickly changed sides and negotiated with the British to drive out the Japanese. The Japanese were successfully expelled from Burma in May 1945. And then, military administration resumed in Burma under the British. Later Aung San eventually managed to negotiate Burma’s independence from Britain in January 1947. Aung San also concluded an agreement with the country’s ethnic nationalities for a unified Burma. On 19 July 1947 known as Martyr's Day, at the instigation of an opposition politician, Aung San and several members of his cabinet were gunned down. Aung San’s colleague, the charismatic Thakin U Nu, took over the reins and Burma finally became independent on 4 January 1948.
After a series of internal conflicts, in 1962 the army took over the power under General Ne Win being President and the country’s decline under military dictatorship began. Though Ne Win retired as President in 1981, but he remained in power until 1988. Falling commodity prices and rising national debt eventually lead to demonetization of particular bank notes which wiped out the savings of most of the people of Burma. This caused riots all over the country, leading to the military taking over and ignoring the constitution in favor of martial law. The 8888 Uprising (08/08/88) began with people all over the country protesting in the name of pro-democracy. Amongst the chaos, the daughter of Aung San (who had done so much in the name of independence and freedom), Aung San Suu Kyi, arose as a natural leader, appealing for help to end the protests and deaths.
The military controlled government changed Burma to Myanmar in 1989, seeing an end to the Socialist state and putting the past behind. The name referred to the official name of the country in Burmese “Myanma” which has its origins from Mranma, the name the Bamas gave themselves when first arriving from the Irrawaddy River in the 9th century. This was intended to be a more inclusive name for the rest of the ethnic groups in the country, as it was not only the Burmese living in Burma.
EARLY HISTORY OF ETHNIC GROUPS
Officially, the country encompasses eight main ethnic groups; Arakanese, Burmese, Mon, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, and Shan. The government officially has further divided these eight major ethnic groups into 135 different indigenous ethnic groups. These ethnic groups have highly distinctive identities in terms of culture, language, dress and living styles. Though Burmese is the most widely spoken language, these ethnic groups have been able to retain over a hundred different dialects that are spoken even today.
In fact, the migration process in Burma (Myanmar) is not well recorded anywhere. Thereby, the results vary from one research to another. For centuries, different ethnic groups formed kingdoms and exercised complete control over the entire country. Some research say that, back in the 7-9th century A.D, the Burmans are believed to have migrated southwards from the Eastern Himalayas and present-day Yunnan, China to the Irrawaddy valley, which led to a 500-year dynastic rule. Other references illustrate that, 1,500 years ago, the country we now know as Burma was inhabited by the Pyu, a Tibeto-Burman-speaking people who migrated south from present-day Yunnan in China, and the Mon, who came to Burma from what we now know as Thailand. In the ninth century, the Bamar people who also hailed from the Yunnan region of China invaded from the north, bringing an end to Pyu civilization and setting up the Pagan Kingdom, marking the beginning of Bamar ascendancy in Burma. The ancestors of Kachin who were known as Jingpo lived on the Tibetan plateau and migrated gradually towards the south. The Jingpos were one of the normal tribes of mongols. They were driven out by the Han Chinese after their Yuan Dynasty. During the 15th and 16th centuries the Jingpo continued migrating to their present territory. On the other hand, Karen arrived in what is a now Thailand century before the Thais, when the country was part of the Mon-Khmer Empire. They appear to have originated in the north, possibly in the high plains of Central Asia, and migrated in stages across China to Southeast Asia. Although some Karen believes that they came to Burma before the Mon and the Burman around 3000 BC, there is no clear historical evidence that explains the time of Karen settlement. The Karen is thought to originate from Mongolia, and they now live throughout much of lower Burma, with the main populations in the Irrawaddy Delta and Thai borderlands. The Shan have inhabited the Shan Plateau and other parts of modern-day Burma as far back as the 10th century AD. The Shan kingdom of Mong Mao existed as early as the 10th century CE but became a Burmese vassal state during the reign of King Anawrahta of Pagan. The Tai-Shan people are believed to have migrated from Yunnan in China. In some research, it’s illustrated that the Mon and their distant hill cousins the Wa and Palaung in Shan State are usually described as the earliest inhabitants with descendants in Burma today. Ethnic Karen and Chin were probably the next to move down into central Burma before Burman migration accelerated into Upper Burma in the 9th and 10th centuries AD. Ethnic Shans also began migrating into south-east Asia at around the same time, followed by different Tibeto Burmese hill peoples, including the Kachin and Lahu.
According to CIA Fact book, the majority group Burman make up 68% of the country’s population of 55 million, with the Shan (9%), the Karen (7%), the Arakanese (Rakhine) (4%) and the Mon (2%) comprising the largest ethnic nationality groups. Another source describes that....' Linguists have identified 110 distinct ethno linguistic groups, and the government recognizes 135 ethnic groups. The largest groups are the Shan (about four million), Karen (about three million), Arakanese or Rakhine (about two million), Chinese (over one million), Chin (over one million), Wa (about one million), Mon (about one million), Indians and Bengalis (about one million), Kachin (about less than one million), and Palaung (less than one million). With the exception of the Chinese, Indian, and Bengalis, each minority group occupies a relatively distinct area'.
There are many who don’t enjoy recognition from the government and are thus barred from citizenship and all its associated benefits. These unrecognized ethnic groups are Burmese Chinese, Panthay, Burmese Indians, Burmese Gurkha, Tibetan people, Anglo-Burmese, Burmese Pakistani. The Burmese Chinese and Panthay who together form 3% of the population, Burmese Indians who form 2% of the population, Anglo-Burmese and Gurkha forms more than half a million population.
The Rohingya people are also not recognized by the government as an ethnic nationality of Burma, and thus suffer from some of the worst discrimination and human rights abuses of all the people of Burma. Rakhine (Rohingya) group is located west of Myanmar, along the Indian Ocean, close to Bangladesh. They are an ethnic Sunni Muslim group in the majority Buddhist country and make up around two million of the total populations living in the western coastal state of Rakhine. Culturally, ethnically, and linguistically, they are far different from the dominant Buddhist population. Due to non-recognition by the Government, they suffer from some of the worst discrimination and human rights abuses of all the people of Burma. Their main land of living is Rakhine state.
ROHINGYA ORIGIN AND CRISIS
Before discussing about the Rohingya crisis, let we touch upon, who all are "Rohingya" themselves. In actual fact, although there are 135 national races living in Myanmar today, the so-called Rohingya people are not one of them. Historically, there has never been a Rohingya race. There are two major ethnic communities in Arakan. The Rohingyas who form the majority population of Arakan as a whole, are the believers in the religion of Islam and the Maghs (Rakhains) who are the minority, profess Buddhism. Since 8th century Islam spread and deeply rooted in Arakan from where it spread into interior Burma. In subsequent centuries, Arab, Persian and Indian Muslim traders settled in coastal trading towns. Muslims also served as mercenaries and administrators to Burmese kings. Chinese Muslims, referred to as Panthay, arrived in Myanmar as early as 13th century and greatest numbers in the late 19th century following the Chinese government’s crushing of the Islamic sultanate in Yunnan.
Arakan began with the influence and spread of Muslim civilization when Arakan was virtually ruled by Muslims from 1430 to 1531. According to some historians, the Rohingya community exists in Myanmar since 12th century, when Muslims from nearby places came to live in the newly founded Arakan kingdom. Many others arrived during the nineteenth and early twentieth century's as well, when Rakhine was governed by colonial rule as part of British India. Their population in Rakhine state exploded during the British Rule (1824–1948) in Myanmar when Indian and Bangladeshi laborers migrated to Myanmar (then known as Burma).Today, their population stands at nearly 2 million, out of which, one-third of them lives in the Buddhist-dominated Rakhine state. Generally, the current Muslim populations of Myanmar are descendants of Arabs, Persians, Turks, Moors, Indian-Muslims, Pakistanis, Pathans, Bengalis, Chinese Muslims and Malays who settled and intermarried with local Burmese and many ethnic groups such as Rakhine, Shan, Karen, and Mon etc.
Muslims in Myanmar are dispersed geographically and are highly diverse in ethnicity. North Arakan, the ‘Traditional Homeland of the Rohingya”, is the largest Muslim concentration. The origin of Rohingyas in (Arakan State) can be traced from the early Muslim settlers of the 8th century.’ Much of the population is concentrated in the three townships of North Rakhine State-Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Sittwe and Rathedaung.
The Rohingya problem is a problem of ‘religious, ethnic and political persecution’ to rid Arakan of the Muslim population. In fact, in International legal term, the "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group" displayed by the authorities in Myanmar is genocide according to Articles II and III of the 1948 Convention on Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. Through systematic criminal measures, the regime’s intention is to wipe out this Muslim minority from Myanmar. The Rohingya are one of the most vulnerable communities in the world who is stateless, discriminated against, treated unequally, excluded and persecuted. In the region, the Rohingya crisis is perhaps the most horrific human rights tragedy after the crisis in Vietnam in the 1970s.
Since the country first gained independence from the British in 1948, its government has been fighting the officially recognized national ethnic groups such as Karen, the Karenni, the Kachin, the Shan, Chin and the Mon. Those ethnic groups have had armed militias for decades. They have taken up arms against a state they see as oppressive and are fighting for some form of self-determination, such as autonomy or independence. The Rohingya, though was not recognized, was never in fight against the Nation. So, the question can always be raised, why are the Rohingya being so brutally singled out? The answer is very complex and we will find out the relevant answers in our subsequent research ahead.
Since independence, successive governments in Burma (renamed Myanmar in 1989), have refuted the Rohingya’s historical claims and denied them recognizing as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups. The first government introduced the Union Citizenship Act in the same year of independence to define which ethnic group can claim Burmese citizenship. For Rohingyas, there was a special clause. Only those Rohingyas whose families had lived for at least two generations in Burma can apply for citizenship. Clearly, it was a way to avoid ranting citizenship to those Rohingya people who had come as laborers from India, Bangladesh and other parts of the world during the British rule. The military coup of 1962 caused further deterioration of Rohingya community’s citizenship rights. The military regime took away the citizenship of all Rohingya people by giving them foreign identity cards. This led to limited job and educational opportunities for the already deprived Rohingya community. The biggest setback for Rohingyas, however, was still about to come. Twenty years after they took over the throne, military regime introduced the 1982 Citizenship Law that effectively left Rohingya community stateless. Rohingya are not considered as even second-class citizen because they do not have documents such as birth certificates and land titles. As per the act, the citizenship would be provided to only those people who had lived in Burma prior to 1948. The lack of documentation with Rohingya people meant that they wouldn’t be considered Burmese citizens. The government claims they are Bengali Muslims who didn’t arrive in the region until British colonial rule, between 1823 and 1948. If so, under the citizenship law, they should be able to become ‘associate’ or, at least, ‘naturalized’ citizens. But in the 1980s, claiming that their roots go back to the eighth century, if not earlier, the Rohingya majority challenged the entire hierarchy and demanded full citizenship and equal rights. They understand that Burma’s citizenship law renders them stateless and are calling for it to be amended.
With the aim of annihilating the Rohingya from Myanmar, the government and military junta have effectively institutionalized discrimination against them through restrictions. They have restrictions on family planning, employment, education, religious choice, freedom of movement, study, work, and travel. Aside from listed restrictions, Rohingya must also seek permission to marry, which may require them to bribe authorities and provide photographs of the bride without a headscarf and the groom with a clean-shaven face, which actually conflict with Muslim customs. They cannot even have more than two children. Moreover, not everyone is allowed to follow certain professions like medicine, law, and administration. These discrimination and deprivation had been continuing decade after decade and the Rohingya steadily had been losing their rights, and were the victims of violence.
With the above situation, The Rohingya only recently spawned a small armed group named The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), because of their Statehood citizenship claims, though majority of Rohingya didn't approve similar armed struggles to reinstate their claims. Since 2012, conflict between ethnic Rakhine Buddhist and Rohingya Rakhine Muslim people in the northern Rakhine State have been reported and it aggravated towards a riot. The immediate cause of the riots is unclear. Many commentators reported that the riot was ignited out of killing of few Burmese Muslims by ethnic Rakhine after the rape and murder of a Rakhine woman. Whole villages have been decimated. Houses and buildings have been razed. Many people were killed, many missing in actions, and a good amount of numbers have been displaced. The government has responded by imposing curfews and by deploying troops in the regions. On 10 June 2012, a state of emergency was declared in Rakhine, allowing the military to participate in administration of the region. The Burmese army and police have been accused of targeting only Rohingya Muslims through mass arrests and arbitrary violence. A number of monks' organizations that played a vital role in Myanmar's struggle for democracy have taken measures to block any humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya community.
Recent Clashes in Rakhine broke out in August 2017, after a militant group known as ARSA claimed responsibility for attacks on police and army posts. The government declared ARSA a terrorist organization and the military mounted a brutal campaign that destroyed hundreds of Rohingya villages and forced nearly ten hundred thousand Rohingya to leave Myanmar. Those forces claimed they carried out a “clearance operation” campaign to reinstate stability in the western region of Myanmar. In a “clearance operation” in which thousands of people were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. An estimated 800,000 Rohingya were uprooted from their homes after soldiers and police chased them out of the country and expatriated into outer world including Bangladesh. There were accounts of rape, torture and mass killings. Bangladesh has seen the largest influx while Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand have become the latest hot-spot for Rohingya refugees where they arrive after a treacherous sea journey.
Since the crackdown of Myanmar Military on Rohingya, these people are now taking shelter in Bangladesh mainly and few of them in surrounding countries. Bi-lateral, International negotiations are still going on with Myanmar government to settle the issue quickly.
EFFECTS ON BANGLADESH
Bangladesh being the next door neighbor is always the first one to bear the brunt and she is the most affected country by the flow of refugees. Bangladesh having population of nearly 160 million and having very limited GDPs are now suffering from rising additional number of almost a million refugees and also undergoing an emergency situation. The crisis has already hampered the economy to sever degree along with all other issues such as social security and others. Even after all these setback, Bangladesh is trying her best to provide humanitarian support to Rohingas in terms of basic assistance, medical services, coordinate private donations, register the refugees and campaigning to mobilize international support for repatriation.
Bangladesh was provideing shelter to several Rohingyas since 1978, when the first riot broke out in the Rakhine (then Arakan) state in the west of Myanmar. Although both during 1978 and 1992, UN intervention led to repatriation of a significant number of Rohingyas back to Myanmar, there are several who stayed back. But this time, as of February 2018, the United Nations estimates that almost close to one million Rohingya refugees have fled out of Myanmar's violent campaign of ethnic cleansing. Almost universally, 800,000 Rohingya moved into Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh. That is straining for Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is small, low-lying, under-resourced and overcrowded area. Influx has overwhelmed existing response capacities, and has put immense strain on local livelihoods, ecosystems, and basic services. And really it can’t deal with this crisis alone now. Bangladesh can’t indefinitely handle the humanitarian disaster that has arrived on her shores out of another country's ethnic problems.
Though, the Bangladesh government and political elites are welcoming the Rohingya refugees for now due to the humanitarian ground. But how long can the welcome last for such almost one million displaced people which have already became an enormous burden for her? If the problem remains for longer time, there can be many unprecedented effects on Bangladesh as well. Internationally, Bangladesh has limited power to rally support for itself and the Rohingya. Still repeatedly, Bangladeshis diplomats have reached out to different countries including China and India and several regional organizations such as Organization of Islamic Countries, Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), European Union and BIMSTEC (a sub-regional organization) expressing the situation and seeking a redresses. The Government of Bangladesh is urging both Myanmar and as well as other Super Powers to take back the Rohingya and shelter them safely in their homes. Though Bangladesh has gained worldwide recognition for its receptiveness to almost a million refugees who have poured into the country. But as on today, it is hardly believed that the Myanmar generals to heed on the plea. And none of the above regional and International organizations have been of much help except the offer of aid that has poured in from different countries. Populations of Bangladesh are growing impatient with the fallout of Myanmar's purge of the Rohingya. Bangladesh government has detailed Bangladesh Army to handle the crisis in collaboration with civil administration. The question is: how long will the Bangladesh military remain engaged on an non-combatant role? What will be the impacts and effects on Bangladesh due to these Rohingya crises? What sort of resentments would grow against the humanitarian community among the hosts? There can be many more aspects to ponder. The following paragraphs are few ways this massive number of refugees is straining on our nation.
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) militant group, whose attacks on Myanmar security posts last year triggered the army’s indiscriminate “clearance operations,” has pledged to continue its insurgent campaign against what it calls “Myanmar state-sponsored terrorism.” A number of refugees comprising of young, uneducated and jobless youth is a reasonable cause of concern. These youths and men who have faced violence in their homeland make a vulnerable bunch for recruitment in the business of smuggling, crime and also by terrorist groups. Although ARSA (previously named as Harakah Al-Yaqin, HAY) have denied any linkages to any international and terrorist groups, but future linkages cannot be ruled out completely. If not ARSA, the young refugee could be easily lured into the local terrorist group. Thereby, the Bangladeshi security establishment is concerned both that ARSA would try to recruit within camps, and that it would use the camps as a base for cross-border fighting. If the cross-border fighting continues, definitely, the Myanmar government would not sit tight not to tackle the situation over her territory. At times, these intra-conflict situations might deteriorate the bi-lateral understanding and put both Nations face to face on a battle ground. Moreover, a question may arise always that, if ARSA is determined to continue insurgency campaign against Myanmar, as the already pledged, will it be a nucleolus force for some other International terrorist group to form any other terrorist group? So far, that’s unclear. But who knows who takes the advantages of these deprived societies and try to fulfill their own agenda! Whatever the situation or support, it is noticed that extremist networks both in Bangladesh and Myanmar, whether led by hard-line Islamist preachers or radical monks, are gaining influence.
DESTRUCTION OF FORESTS AND EFFECT ON ENVIRONMENT
Bangladesh is highly susceptible to climate change. For years, the country has been grappling with huge climate change in terms of soil erosion, rising sea levels and frequent natural disasters such as cyclones and floods. The environmental impact of approximately one million refugees is difficult to overstate. At the moment, where they settled, huge acres of land of national forests were deforested. The refugee camp built up has a bearing on the agricultural fields and natural habitat of the area. Deforestation linked to the influx have deprived or reduced host communities’ access to firewood, timber for housing as well as forest fruits and other non-timer forest products, and communities are extremely worried about the depleting water table and the potential effects of this situation on their livelihoods. According to CPD estimates, this is equivalent to Tk. 741.3 crore or USD 86.7 million. The construction, use and abandonment of transit settlements have caused damage to the environment and infrastructure in those sites. This includes uprooted vegetation, ground and slope disturbance, contamination of ponds, and solid waste left behind. Sites include now damaged schools and school yards, and landslide-vulnerable hills. Substantial wear and tear on roads, including footpaths and link roads are visible due to daily movement of a large number of Rohingyas, aid workers and humanitarian relief vehicles. Exhaust from thousands of trucks, jeeps, and cars bringing people and goods into the camps are polluting the air.
Asian Elephants are becoming critically endangered due to building several camps on the tracks that elephants follow. According to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), many elephants have been trapped in the west side of Rohingya camp near Myanmar border. Areas previously inhabited by wild elephants are now barren. Ground-water sources are quickly being depleted and fresh-water streams have become contaminated. The dramatic environmental consequences of this massive migration and will last for years, affecting people who live inland in Bangladesh and beyond.
EFFECT ON DEMOGRAPHY
The incumbent existing refugees have already changed the demographics of Bangladesh’s Ukhia and Teknaf, where Rohingya now outnumbering locals by 2:1 ratio. The birthrate among the Rohingya is also much higher than that of Bangladeshis. This is not a good sign for the host country citizen. Over the period of time, the demographics will increase the said ratio between the Rohingya and local people in geometric progress. This phenomenon, one day, would lead a confrontation over the exercise of power of local administrative machineries and Rohingya community. At the moment, out of approximately 900,000 Rohingya, 73 percent are living in new spontaneous settlements, 13 percent in makeshift settlements, 9 percent among host communities, and 5 percent in formal refugee camps. Kutupalong camp is the largest and most densely populated refugee settlement in the world.
RISE OF NEW CONFLICT BETWEEN HOST COMMUNITY AND REFUGEES
Despite having provided laudable help and support for the Rohingya refugees in the initial stages of the influx, host community sympathy is fading and tensions rising. Anxiety about being outnumbered, environmental degradation, livelihood and basic service pressures are feeding grievances.
As of now, though Bangladesh is trying to enlist the Rohingya by documenting their details but many are trying to escape such documentations. The reason behind is to easily merge with mainland population in future. Bangladesh authority are preventing from assimilating Rohingyawith the local population. New refugees are even barred to become Bangladeshi citizenship through either birth or marriage. Still many Rohingyas, who all were not documented and could escape the Adminitration, are traveling beyond the camps to areas inland, searching for opportunities. It is to be noted that, almost all Rohingyas are looking alike Bangladeshi citizen and many can speak local languages as well. Thereby, it is obvious that, if any undocumented Rohingya who leaves the camp and tresspass into the main land, would not be easily detected. Ample research and evidence suggest that this can create new conflicts and competition over limited resources, especially as refugees stay longer and seek to settle permanently as we can see everywhere from the Middle East to Europe to the United States.
Not only this, if the refugees stay longer, then, slowly and gradually, they will be able to have dominations over the local citizen at settled area. And over the period of time, with the clandestine process of immigration, many would be authorized citizen, having passports or National Identity Card of this country. Over a period of time, may be after decays, the number of Rohingya would out-numbered the local citizen totally making Bangladeshi citizen a minority, which would allow them to think to command and control the original locals. If such thing happens, another conflict would arise in Bangladesh.
Besides, when populations remain displaced for longer periods of time, the displaced people have less access to the judiciary system enable the chances of domestic violence, cases of harassments or even sexual abuses. Out of these deprivations, resentment could breed over perceptions of inequality and thus, give birth of a new conflict.
The vast majority of very poor and poor host community households as well as Rohingya households has very little technical or vocational skills and therefore relies on non-skilled daily labor. Consequently, both communities are competing on the same unskilled daily labor market, with a serious deterioration of employment opportunities for poor and very poor host community members. Daily laborers are now accepting lower rates and taking on one- or even half day opportunities. Host communities in the Ukhiya-Teknaf peninsula are also to a large extent self-employed in the field of agriculture, livestock and fishing.
CHANCES OF RADICALIZATION AND HUMAN TRAFFICKING
When there are huge populations are displaced and live under poverty level, then, human trafficking, kidnapping increases, especially, the kids, females and young girls are subjected to these kinds of trafficking and kidnappings. Longer the duration, worsening the situation. As of now, the Bangladeshi host community almost universally has negative views of the Rohingya even though they are sympathetic to their plight in Rakhine. Many see them as uneducated, coarse and potentially criminal. Most locals also say that if they do not go home soon, they should be isolated in a closed camp.
At present, the whole Rohingya crisis is being handled and monitored by Military organization. Thereby, the situation is still under better condition. If this situation become protracted longer, then, it has to be dealt under direct civilian authority soon as the military has other agenda to fulfil of their own. It can not be a responsibility for military altogether for a longer period. Thus, transitioning from a military-enhanced emergency operation to a civilian-led recovery system will require multiple layers of support, particularly given that local governance. In many cases, it has been found that, incapacity, corruption, crime and opacity are the risks exist that local authorities will be perceived. This might escalate with significant potential for tensions between the host and Rohingya communities over time. With no clear resolution in sight, frustration could create the condition for further radicalization within the Rohingya communities. Experiences say that refugee camps are always more vital place and breeding ground for radicalization. Another point of view is that, untill and unless, the repatriation seems to be safe and acceptable, many of the Rohingya would not be willing to go back to Myanmar. If, they are been pressuraized by Bangladesh or International bodies, instead of going back to Myanmar, the millitant group of ARSA might recruit them to organize cross-border attack as well as againsy host country Bangladesh.
Bangladesh’s GDP per capita is a meager. In 2016 the country has made remarkable progress toward the Millennium Development Goals. In the FY of 2017, just after a thrust of colossal loss from sudden flash floods in north-eastern haor areas and followed by sharp inflation in rice market; the country was making able to grip its economy. But suddenly, the Rohingya crisis is putting an adverse effect on Bangladesh, mostly on its economy, society and the environment. In Bangladesh, the Rohingya added 800,000 people to a nation of 163 million already struggling with the development, employment, infrastructure, and public service needs that far exceed its overtaxed resources. Its cities are overcrowded, and its public services and environment are already strained beyond the breaking point. Where Bangladesh is forced to export workers to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and any other nation where employment is available, in that situation, suddenly 800000 refugees definitely matters against her weak economy. The immediate economic impact of the Rohingya influx has been felt by the general people living in the host region as well as the local agro and tourism business enterprises. Many hotels in Cox’s Bazaar faced as high as 40% loss despite peak season business. The coastal town and beaches of Cox’s Bazaar used to be Bangladesh’s main tourist destination; now the area is awash with foreign aid workers. Tourism expenditures in Cox’s Bazaar have been greatly reduced damaging the hotel and restaurant business.
Economic sectors relying on the sea have all been affected by the influx. Tourism to St. Martin Island, cross border trade between Bangladesh and Myanmar, fishing on the Naf River etc have all declined due to restrictions. Local laborers are losing their share of wages since many Rohingya are offering similar services at a cheaper rate. A severe supply shortage of food grains resulted in a price hike in Cox’s bazaar.
Though, extensive international humanitarian relief has poured in to support the refugees, that don’t cover all the economic costs to the government or to the border region’s Bangladeshi citizens. There is huge gap between the demand and the supply of food, water, medicines and medical facilities. Beginning from August 2017 till March 2018, the Bangladesh government has estimated that seventy four percent of the expense has been borne by the agencies and the rest have been accumulated by Bangladesh government. Thereby, these twenty six percent expenses are being exhausted from our National budget just to tackle the extra manpower of Rohingya. As per the plausible repatriation agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar, it is noted that if the agreement is finally approved by Myanmar Government, then, Myanmar decides to take back 300 Rohingyas every month. According to this calculation, the problem will not be solved before 2025. And it would take next 7 years, where, within this time frame, it will require another huge millions of money for sheltering and feeding them by Bangladesh Government. The economist envisages that the crisis will lead to higher expenditures further on government and NGOs. This will increase the level of the Government deficit and act as an expansionary force on the economy. Though increased foreign aid flows and foreign NGO expenditures will, along with a higher deficit, lead to more rapid economic growth. But on balance, the crisis will be an expansionary force on the economy.
Economists and think tanks opined that the Rohingya crisis will put enormous pressure on the next fiscal’s national budget, particularly as foreign aid begins to stagnate. As a result, Bangladesh may be forced to reduce budget allocation for its own development projects in subsequent fiscal years.
EFFECT ON POLITICS
When the military of Myanmar, launched its mass violence campaign in late August 2017, Bangladesh was initially reluctant to open its border to Rohingya refugees. After considering many factors, including International request, as well as, on humanitarian ground, Bangladesh ultimately allowed them in. This influx of Rohingya refugees from the northern portion of Myanmar’s Rakhine province has affected the political environment in Bangladesh. The impact is particularly acute in the south-eastern district of Cox`s Bazaar and to some extent in adjoining districts. Though, International bodies appreciated the step taken by Bangladesh government, but Bangladesh has been unable to organize the international diplomatic support needed to decisively end the crisis. As of now, the manner and quantum of rehabilitation assistance have generated contentious views among the political parties, on many occasions as a matter of expediency. There has been criticism from the political opposition, and even within the ruling and its allied parties. Dissatisfaction on the adequacy of relief provided to the Rohingya as well as on the extent to which the local communities in the vicinity of the relief camps are being adversely noticed. Such criticism is expected to increase in the near future and pre-election period depending on the gravity and outcome of the Rohingya crisis. The matter is becoming a major issue in the internal political domain and the manner in which the international community is supporting the present government`s efforts to reverse the refugee influx as well as its outcome and improvement in management of the refugees will determine the extent of the fallout on the country’s domestic political environment. Thereby, the internal political domain might be influencing political equations in the time to come as follows:
SECURITY THREAT FROM MILITANT GROUPS
Bangladesh is a place where multi-dimensional political parties are working with their own agenda. There are concerns that it will lead to further authoritarianism in the country, as well as fuel extremist sentiment and radical Islamist movements from the crisis. It is likely that gradually the potential Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to be recruited by extremist groups, and the Rohingya refugees also would try to get involved within the political parties for greater back up support. Previous experiences of Rohingya refugees indicate such phenomena already in Bangladesh. In January 1998, for example, armed refugees thought to be from the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) seized the Nayapara refugee camp where three were killed in clashes with Burmese security forces near the Bangladesh border. Also in 1998, 64 refugees were jailed after clashes with police. It is claimed that existing Rohingya camps (for refugees who fled to Bangladesh in earlier years), were being run by Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami (HuJI). Many point to connections between militant groups in Bangladesh and those in Myanmar.
The militancy potential of refugees is echoed by many Think-tankers. ‘The Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazaar District are fertile grounds for recruitment by Islamic militants. With little love for Myanmar, and alienated from Bangladesh, the stateless Rohingyas are vulnerable and desperate, and likely become militant in an effort to uphold their interests. As the Rohingya crisis continues to deepen, Bangladesh will become ever more attractive to an array of Islamist militant groups seeking to recruit the hapless victims of the Myanmar government.
EFFECTS ON LOCAL GOVERNANCE AND SOCIETY
Even the government has been receiving the Rohingyas, the locals in Chittagong and Noakhali where the Rohingya have taken refugee were never happy with the uninvited guest. Because, aside from inherent security breech, these Rohingyas are occupying many of the private lands, williningly or unwillingly destroying their crops etc. The involvement of the Rohingya especially those who have arrived previously, increased the incidences of illegal drug dealing activities and other manifestations which have started deteriorating the law and order situation in the infested areas. There are several women with small children with no other family member alive which make them vulnerable and also there are several reports on some women taking up prostitution for survival.
To put in context the scale of the impact of the Rohingya crisis on the local government of Cox’s Bazaar is alarming. For example, in each constituency of Cox's Bazaar, the approximate density of population is around six hundred thousands. The additional Rohingya influx of 800000 as on August 2018 onward, is higher than the average population per constituency of Cox’s Bazaar as well as the population of the host constituency. Thereby, It is evident that the total Rohingya influx will pose a uniquely onerous burden on the existing local administration. The regular work of the Union Parishads has already been complicated and in some cases disrupted by the increased workload associated with the response and the utilization of their office spaces for response purposes. Shortcomings in the provision of regular programs are likely to appear or become more evident in the coming months. It is of particular concern that the added pressure on local governance institutions and civil servants has led to the suspension of social safety net programs for Bangladeshi citizens such as the Vulnerable Group Feeding. Negative impact on children’s education through the loss of school years of local students will lead another disaster. In the upcoming rainy seasons, disaster management plans and capacities will exceed at the local and district level, they have been developed for the pre-influx context and will not be adequate in 2018.
What’s happening in Myanmar with Rohingya is in many ways a painful reminder of what’s been unfolding in Palestine over decades. Huge mass evacuation and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and expropriation of their land since the creation of Israel in 1948 resemblance the same as with Rohingya, who were forcefully displaced, expatriated and denied citizenship from their own land. Both peoples, Rohingya and Palestinians, have been repeatedly persecuted, displaced and denied citizenship. The images of the Rohingya marching with the Palestinians with their possessions on their fate are all too familiar. Only difference between these two communities is that Palestinians are losing their homeland slowly and gradually to Israelis as Israelis are capturing the chunk of lands from Palestinians' occupation, whereas, Rohingyas have already lost their total homeland and got out of the country by now. The Rohingya communities have to re-capture their homeland either by guerilla fights or with the assistance of external support. How this is going to be materialized, only 'time' and 'world politics' can dictate. In case, this Rohingya crisis is not dealt properly or the issue is not solved in the forcible time, then, what kinds of threat Bangladesh is going to face in terms of her National Sovereignty? Or, is there any threat perceived out of these huge Rohingya communities?
Let’s assume the strength of Rohingya population is around 800,000. If the repatriation is not taking place within short time, or it takes longer, then, these eight hundred thousand would become more than twelve hundred thousand within next two years. Generally, it is seen that, when such huge exodus of refugee is concerned, history says that it takes more than 20 years to settle the problem. By these 20 years, the quantity of Rohingya will be almost close to few crore plus. With such huge quantity of Rohingya can always a detrimental threat to our sovereignty in future.
Let’s look at the history of the displaced population in the World. For example, Mexico. Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821 from colonial imposition. While war with Spain, thousands of white colonists, mercenaries, cattleman had been coming from North America that had been already invaded. These people initially established their footholds in the lands of Mexico. Later, enlarged their population so that by 1835 there were more white foreigners than that of Mexicans in the area. In 1836 the white foreigners occupied most of the territory by force, declared ‘Independence’ and called the stolen lands “republic of Texas”. This bandit’s act caused war between Mexico and United States and Mexico lost their lands which is now called ‘Texas’. Similarly, North Mexico, in 1848, became the ‘Southwest’ of the US. Historical evidence says that Australia was settled by a wave of immigrants from India little more than 4000 years ago.
With the above illustrations, with such huge amount of Rohingya, once would be self-sufficient in this host country can always have a threat against National sovereignty.
ROLE OF OTHER COUNTRIES
Despite having evidence or the extent of ethnic cleansing committed by the Myanmar authorities, the world is yet to take serious actions. Initially, the International Bodies like United Nations (UN), Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC), and Association of South East Nations (ASEAN) etc. were not much vocal the way they should be striving to protect the Rohingya. International organizations such as the OIC, ASEAN have neither ever time nor strong mechanisms for implementation of their resolutions over many of the old disputes. Strong Nation States in most cases ignore demands of international organizations out of many of their internal interests and relationships. But, as the issue of Rohingya displacement is concerned with Muslims and also from South-East Asia, OIC and ASEAN would be best in a position to undertake the cause of the bolting a community. In the past, in many of the issues, they have stood up in persecuted Muslims such as in Palestine or Kashmir. Not only that, with its ingredient countries from powerful nations with Muslim minorities such as the United States, China and Russia having their own representatives in the organization, could play a vital role from the beginning, so that the crisis could be halted when it was within control of International Bodies. Besides, being the issue is concerned in the South East region, there is also an opportunity here for ASEAN to consider how mediation and negotiation could potentially manage such crises. But these groups of organization haven’t engaged in helping solve the crisis when it was a basic issue. Might be that Southeast Asia lack established legal frameworks to protect refugees’ rights, and the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have not coordinated a response to the deepening crisis.
Later when the issue became very grave and got viral in the social, print and tele Medias, many of them took strong stands and demanded its successful ending. Indonesia and Malaysia called on the Myanmar authorities to halt their campaign and bring an end to the violence. Countries including the United States, Canada, Norway, and South Korea, as well as international donors, have upped their humanitarian assistance as the flow of Rohingya to Bangladesh has grown. Several Muslim-majority countries from Turkey to Malaysia and non-Muslim countries from Canada to France have condemned the violent persecution of the Rohingya. Protesters have at times gathered in cities in Pakistan, India, Thailand, Indonesia, and Bangladesh to condemn the killing and persecution of Rohingya.
Though many of the countries as illustrated above, have raised their voice but still the issue is very clumsy to their attitudes and reluctant to handle it strongly. Some of the nations just donated some financial assistance but not gave concluding remarks to end up the crisis forever. In this regard, a question can always be raised that why has the International community failed to establish durable peace in the Rakhine state? Why have the conflicts erupted consistently despite the calls of international bodies hundreds of time? What are the real political issues which thwart the peace process? Or what are the interests of the countries lie behind not to focus their ultimatum against such an issue where serious breach of human rights happening?
A closer look will reveal that Myanmar is a state which has almost zero respect and care for international norms and diplomacy. Not only that, there are many countries that have strategic relationship with Myanmar, where the countries don't want to lose their grip on Myanmar just because of Rohingya issue causing their national interests hampered. Here, we will delve out some of the critical relationships that the countries have with Myanmar and we will focus why what happens.
ORGANIZATION OF ISLAMIC COUNTRIES (OIC)
It is observed that there is still much to be desired from the OIC to become an effective organization. Though the OIC has not been directly responsible for the final settlement of Rohingya issue. However, the organization has not taken strong stance against the current Myanmar government as well either. The OIC does not seem to have appreciated the standpoint of Turkey also when Turkey was very vocal from the beginning regarding Rohingya issue. Had the OIC adopted a strong position condemning Myanmar’s activities and appreciating, the Myanmar government would be more cautious taking such drastic military actions to drive them out of country altogether.
The OIC could form to promote values of human rights, anti-ethnic operation of the incumbent citizen of the nation. Based on these universally recognized values, the OIC could also create moral pressure on India and China, who vehemently and explicitly supported Myanmar against Rohingya issue. However, OIC failed to do so. It took days, in some cases more than a week, for OIC to denounce the atrocities being committed against the Rohingya. There have been no calls for an emergency session of the Arab League or the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the world’s largest Muslim body. Diplomatic pressure has also been limited.
UNITED NATIONS (UN)
Rohingya probably first have to suffer a well-documented ethnic cleansing campaign in the history of mankind. Though, UN Secretary General described it as the world’s fastest developing refugee emergency. But the United Nations’ half-hearted response to the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine State is disappointing, but unsurprising. The Security Council’s failure to act decisively to react to today’s fastest growing humanitarian crisis is reminiscent of its attitude towards similar crises since the 1990s across the world. Despite the ever-extensive of UN policy makers to deal with large-scale human rights violations, ethnic cleansing campaigns, and acts of genocide, the Rohingya crisis reminds us of the fact that human security is always secondary to political interests of UN. Lacking consensus in the Security Council, the UN General Assembly in December 2017 passed a (non-binding) resolution urging Myanmar to end the military campaign, to allow access to aid workers, and to assure the return of refugees. But it didn’t work at all.
In this type of situation, generally, UN becomes very active to resolve the crisis. Generally, mandates are passed to provide UN Peacekeepers to restore the situation. But what we see is forceful action is however unlikely to include a UN peacekeeping mission against Rohingya crisis to settle permanently. UN, in the previous crisis’s, acted very promptly to take forceful actions through UN Peacekeepers. For example, the issue of Abkhazia and Georgia, UN took over the issue seriously for the Internally Displaced People (IDP) of both Abkhazia and Georgia and sent both military forces and observer under United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) as quickly as possible. But on the similar issue, rather, more disastrous and dire state of Rohingya who were not internally displaced but ousted from their home land across the borders, the UN neither approve any missions in Myanmar. May be, many might argue that It would be difficult to find sufficient personnel of Peacekeepers as Bangladesh, Pakistan, or Indonesia, etc. are Asia’s largest providers of UN blue helmets, would never be admitted to Myanmar due to their Islamic background. Western countries might be willing to send observers and expert panels, but have a sorry track-record of fulfilling their responsibility to protect civilians in conflict-zones. Failures in Somalia, Srebrenica (Bosnia), and Rwanda, where western blue helmets shied away after violent attacks rather than doubling-up their effort, signal a lack of appetite to defend civilians at all cost.
Taking into account the reality on the ground and the bleak prospects for more forceful action, the best thing the UN can do for now is to keep pushing for a humanitarian mission and access to human rights investigators, while sustaining the dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar’s military leadership. It is not unlikely that sooner the regime will concede to allow human rights investigators to Myanmar in general and Rakhine in particular. In order to achieve this, it is also important to reach a consensus with Russia and China, as their political sway over the regime is critical. Moscow and Beijing might for now defend the regime, but Myanmar is not as geopolitically vital to them as are Ukraine or Taiwan. Further escalation of the crisis is not in their interest either. A humanitarian mission would thus be a good first step.
ASSOCIATION OF SOUTH EAST ASIAN NATIONS (ASEAN)
There was an opportunity for ASEAN to consider how mediation and negotiation could potentially manage Rohingya crises. This could be done in the similar way ASEAN formulated and performed 1989 Comprehensive Plan of Action on Indo-Chinese refugees to resettle Vietnamese refugees. But the Role of the ASEAN as a regional bloc was largely silent. It has failed to take any serious action aimed at addressing the issue till date. Despite its mandate to ensure peace and stability within the region, its policy of non-interference and consensus trumped the need to secure and maintain stability. The principle of non-interference, which is often invoked by ASEAN member states to avoid discussing sensitive human rights issues, remains a stumbling block for the regional grouping to effectively work with Myanmar to address the root causes of the crisis. ASEAN needs to decide now, how to mediate and resolve issues with regional implications as its principle of non-intervention effectively blocks any constructive discussion on the Rohingyas ongoing statelessness and impact of this on the region.
Most interesting part is that, though, it is limited by its principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states but many of the members' countries individually responded positive bilaterally in favor of Rohingya. From state levels, only several Muslim countries provided strong statement against Myanmar which includes Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia and Maldives. It is also claimed that the top leaders of the countries often use the rhetoric against Myanmar to attain support of majority Muslims domestically rather than playing any effective role. So this raises broader questions on the effectiveness of ASEAN.
Being a strong regional economic association, ASEAN has strong capability to improve the situation in Myanmar as the Rohingya refugee crisis has become a regional crisis. Members of ASEAN, instead or aside from bi-lateral engagements, it must enhance regional cooperation collectively under ASEAN banner in order to improve protection for the region’s refugees.
Turkey is the first country which deliberately raised its voice in favor of Rohingya Muslims and still it supports significant humanitarian aid to the destitute Rohingyas inside and outside Myanmar. Turkey have sent a signal to Myanmar that the Rohingya issue is an issue of universal human rights which supersedes national interests and she condemns the Myanmar army for applying a disproportionate use of power to remove the Rohingya from Myanmar. Turkey is the first country that managed to get entrance in Myanmar for humanitarian aid. Even after the blockage of any aids for Rohingyas, Turkey’s Foreign Aid Agency became the first to deliver an initial shipment of emergency aid packages to the conflict zone in Rakhine State. Besides from the government, many Turkish NGOs have been working for the oppressed Rohingya Muslims. The Turkish Red Crescent and humanitarian Aid Agency launched aid campaigns.
The Chinese government has stood with Myanmar from the start of this crisis, supporting the claim that the treatment of the Rohingya was natural consequences of security issues, because China has vital geopolitical interests in Myanmar. China's policy in the region is changing, and it is defining its own national interest in terms of a long-range regional development goal. As the US is taking a more short-term, reactionary, neo-conservative, inward-looking and confrontational stand under the Trump administration, China, on the other hand, is taking a longer view of the future and prefers soft power diplomacy to establish its dominance in the region. Its One Belt One Road initiative is one which aims to advance the economy of the whole region in which China would remain a dominant integral part. China is readapting its policies and the last thing that China would want is a volatile region. Thus, China is playing almost dual role both for Myanmar and as well as for Bangladesh. On one hand, the Chinese diplomats have done their best to calm the Bangladesh and promise to help with return of the Rohingya to Myanmar. On the other hand, it is supporting Myanmar also. Their efforts are largely scoffed at the Bangladesh elites who believe that there is little hope for the return to Myanmar of these refugees. So, naturally the question arise that why China is having such dual roles on Rohingya issue? The answers are just simple: Economy and security. These both factors can be explained as below:
Another regional power India is also silent on the Rohingya issue and has completely surprised Bangladesh by its all-out endorsement of the Myanmar’s position and trying to cover their tracks in Bangladesh with many statements that make their position fuzzy. While India is providing humanitarian aid to Bangladesh for Rohingya refugees, it is supporting Myanmar and also threatening to deport almost 40,000 Rohingya who had been residing in India much before. Though it is told that India has traditionally been Bangladesh's ally but Indian's support for Myanmar’s position and the absence of any substantive reference to the refugees issue and the consequent humanitarian disaster has greatly disappointed Bangladesh. Interestingly, India seems willing to sacrifice Bangladesh in favor of Myanmar on the Rohingya issue in terms of 'Do-nothing Policy' toward the Rohingya and till today India has managed to keep at arm's length from the issue. Its policy is treading lightly with Myanmar, out of geo-political and geo-economic concerns. Though the issue of terrorism dominates the security narrative on India’s approach to the Rohingya issue, India’s Act East Policy is linked to land connections with Myanmar. This policy has two major planks: economic development in northeast India and balancing China’s influence. The reality is that the Indians see this crisis as a security issue, and fear that the Rohingya issue is all mixed up with the growth of Islamic fundamentalism. However, private Indians are generously providing food for the refugees. Interestingly, the camp holding the Hindu Rohingya is not under the control of the Bangladesh army and the sources of financing and security are not clear. Bangladesh wished Indian government, if not to solve the issue but at least to stop the violence and ebb the flow of refugees. Till now, India has described Rohingya who are in India as illegal immigrants and a national security threat. The factors and reasons for which India is supporting Myanmar can be assumed as follows:
Malaysia’s history has been replete with the influx of refugees from other countries. During 2012 to 2017, a mass arrival of Rohingya people to Malaysia became a significant event. Malaysia and Indonesia began to take a stronger stance on the protection of the Rohingya Muslims. Malaysia, on the other hand is vocal in condemning Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya. Malaysia has emphasized that the plight of Rohingya Muslims is a regional concern and has called ASEAN to coordinate humanitarian aid and to investigate alleged atrocities in Myanmar against Rohingya people. Moreover, at Malaysia’s request, Aung San Suu Kyi called a special meeting with ASEAN foreign ministers in Yangon. Malaysian Minister Aland’ A mini also said Malaysia and his neighbors (Midland and Indonesia) to work on a collective proposal under ASEAN and discuss it with Myanmar to resolve the issue. Malaysia also provides humanitarian aids to various Rohingya camps in Bangladesh.
During 1960s, during the rule of Late King Faisal, KSA gave shelter to the Rohingya when they were under persecution and slaughters by Myanmar's government. This time, Muslim leaders from the Persian Gulf including KSA have offered little more than condemnation and urgently needed humanitarian aid. Not only that, KSA is less likely to be outspoken on Rohingya issue this time because it actually relies on the Myanmar government to protect the physical security of their oil pipeline. Saudi interests, no doubt, influence the policy of the OIC as well. One could argue that Saudi Arabia is less likely to be outspoken on this (Rohingya) issue because of the following reasons:
The US has deteriorated her relationship both with China and Russia with present Trump Administration in issue with South China Sea. And rising tension with North Korea has made situation more unpredictable and dangerous consequences. Thereby, the US is likely to be very interested than usual about the issue of Muslim Rohingya. Yet, US has called Myanmar’s denial of its ethnic cleansing campaign ‘preposterous’. She also pressurized China and Russia to refrain from using their veto power on the issue in favor of Myanmar. US informed that the government of Myanmar, including its armed forces, must take immediate action to ensure peace and security, implement commitments to ensure humanitarian access to communities in desperate need, facilitate the safe and voluntary return of those who have fled or been displaced in Rakhine state, and address the root causes of systematic discrimination against the Rohingya. US have made it clear to Myanmar civilian and military officials at the highest levels, within the central government and in Rakhine itself, that all stakeholders must end the violence, respect the rule of law, cease displacement, pave a path for the Rohingyas’ return to their homes, and hold accountable those responsible for violations and abuses. The measures announced by the state department are the strongest US response so far to the months-long Rohingya crisis but fall short of the most drastic tools at Washington’s disposal, such as re-imposing broader economic sanctions suspended under the Obama administration. If US do announce that the US believes ethnic cleansing has occurred, it would greatly raise pressure on Myanmar administration to act and could include further sanctions against Myanmar.
Although Indonesia had stated that the Rohingya crisis is a regional problem, Fellow ASEAN members Indonesia, which are predominantly Muslim, were more critical. It has followed the non-intervention principle, emphasizing that it would pursue its policy of constructive engagement' rather than put pressure on Myanmar.
Taking consideration that Tatmadaw, the military organization, is most powerful institution in the country, Thailand seems playing a double game. Moreover, Thailand, together with China and Japan, has expressed economic interest in Myanmar’s western state. Thereby, Thailand refrained from criticizing Myanmar’s atrocities against Rohingya Muslims, relieve the Tatmadaw of any suspicion and is maintaining a guise of friendship with both Myanmar government and Tatmadaw. For example, when Mr. Surakiart, ex-foreign Minister of Thailand, was appointed as the Chairperson of an Advisory Commission Board regarding Rohingya issue, government agencies and ministries refrained from supporting Surakiart and his panel. Surakiart panel could not do much about the Rohingya issue through his board formed by Thailand officials.
EFFECTS ON THE REGION
Continued violence and exploding population of refugees must have some effects both regional and International area. This could destabilize the situation from peace to disturbances. Neither SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) nor ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), two regional inter-governmental organizations, has stepped up to help mediate a diplomatic solution. The United Nations and the European Union are working on improving dire humanitarian conditions on the ground, but have made no progress on solving the larger problems that have pushed the Rohingya out of their homes. China, India, KSA, Thailand, and the US all have economic interests in Myanmar and large investments made matters more complicated. India should understand that the Rohingya crisis represents a threat to regional stability. Contrary to its expectation, insurgencies in its north-eastern states might get further leverage from radicalized Rohingyas. Hence, India can ill-afford to lose Bangladesh's friendship, which is vital for its access to north-eastern states and deal with separatist movements there. Thereby, the issue became paradox for many. But, the issue can turn the region and global situation unpredictable at any time, if remain the state of affairs what it is at the moment.
If the refugee issue is not addressed well for amicable solution, then, the security situation would worsen due to the refugees becoming ground zero for Islamist group looking for fresh recruits, which would have impact for regional security as well being spillover effects. The International Crisis Group (ICG) termed this as the most serious escalation in the conflict. Obviously the biggest losers from the escalation and continuation of this conflict will be the countries directly affected like Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Thailand, China, KSA etc. Past experiences indicate that there can be many affect both region and International affairs. We would like to ponder some of the affects that could happen as follows:
INSTABILITY AND POSSIBLE CROSS-BORDER ATTACKS
Out of the forced displacement and thus creating a million populations stateless, whether living in refugee camps in Bangladesh or in Myanmar, would likely become a breeding ground for extremism. It's obvious that when the young men have seen their families abused, tortured, raped and killed, definitely, these young men will seek outlet for their angers. Presence of so many traumatized, hopeless refugees in Bangladesh could be a recipe for further instability and possible cross-border attacks by Rohingya militants, known as ARSA and ISIS agents and promoters of fundamentalist. Whenever, these dissatisfied and deprived groups of people find a scope, they will try to lead them towards violence. Particularly, it can be very well perceived that based on Indian's unconditional support in favor of Myanmar against Rohingya crisis, the security threat posed to India is more likely by the militancy potential of the Rohingya refugees.
LONG-TERM GUERILLA WARFARE AND JIHADIST MOVEMENT
The atrocities against the Rohingya have created an issue for rebellion and radicalization. Moreover, the terrains of mountains and heavy forest regions have made most suitable ground for them for long-term guerilla warfare and a breeding ground. This is a serious security threat for the region. Add transnational terrorist networks in the mix, and things could get much more volatile. A vicious cycle of violence may set off as state-sponsored persecution of the Rohingya continues giving way to large numbers of recruits.
Analysis sees that the Rohingya crisis as fuelling jihadist sentiments in other countries in the region, notably Indonesia and Malaysia and other Muslim countries. Such warnings of the regional security implications of the Rohingya refugee crisis are echoed and seen as ‘threatening to deepen sectarian tensions across the region as Muslim communities grow increasingly angry over the treatment of Muslim Rohingya by Buddhist Rakhine.
LONG-TERM REGIONAL CHALLENGES
The political consequences of the Rohingya catastrophe are multi-dimensional and the potential effects of the Rohingya crisis and are really a matter to worry. Besides being a massive socio-economic liability for Bangladesh, the influx of refugees from predominantly Buddhist-Myanmar is a national security threat not only to Bangladesh but also to the region.
Similar to Bangladesh there are several Rohingya refugees, approximately 40,000, who have settled in India since 1990s. They settled in different parts of India like Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Jammu and others. These refugees in India are equally vulnerable to terrorism, crime and smuggling rackets. Problem flared up further when later last year when prominent office bearers of Jammu and Kasmir, started giving statements with ‘Go back Rohingya’. This already resulted division of groups in India. Rohingya who are mostly Muslims, the centre’s stand against them can be perceived by some (especially the Muslims) in India as perpetuating the already existing religious difference. Many are supporting the deportation and other not supporting it. India should look at its own religious division and should be caution against its possible fuelling or spill over into the Rohingya conflict. Being enveloped in the name of national security, the larger sect of Muslim religion would be in religious fault lines. If the problem is not dealt correctly and wisely, it will further lead to various terrorist groups taking up the immediate ‘Rohingya Cause’ in the name of revenging the governmental action towards the Rohingya. Moreover, it will have a major impact on the Northeast India where the issue of refugee is already sensitive. The repatriation or deportation will make the situation worse in Northeast where anti Bangladeshi feeling is prevalent. Thereby, problem will not be limited to Bangladesh with time only, it will have a huge implication on the entire region and if continued, will soon upsurge which will have an impact in the region. Pushing back these refugees will give no solution but will rather jeopardize the security to an extent that several generations will have to bear the consequences.
On the issue of Rohingya crisis, the block of Arab and Muslim countries will naturally be drawn into this fray as fellow Muslims are being slaughtered. Already there is sufficient reason for concern at the flow of Middle Eastern money in the region with distinct fundamentalist overtones. As it is seen already that Rohingyas are finding their way into various Arab and Muslim countries with stories of atrocities invoking a natural reaction for seeking justice and fighting a future of fear and intimidation by building up some sort of resistance including armed.
Aside from this, there are many Non-Muslims ethnic minorities who lived in the Muslim-majority Rakhine State also been subjected to Myanmar military oppression. Hence, other than Muslim communities in the world, people except Muslim also be drawn attentions to this crisis and it might lead a serious dissatisfaction over the region. Most fearful indication is that Rohingya issue may serve to revive the fortunes of Al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian derivatives.
Regarding the slow response of the international community, there is a common belief among Rohingya as well as many Bangladeshi in particular and all over the Muslim communities in general that the international community is discriminatory to the Muslims. This type of feeling may fuel anti-Western feelings among a large number of Muslims which is now held by a small group of radicals.
EFFECTS ON NEGATIVE REGIONAL INITIATIVES AND RELATIONSHIP
Bangladesh has many bi-lateral disputes with India. Such as maritime boundaries, arms trafiicking, cross-border movements of armed insurgents etc. Added with them, the Rohingya crisis has created another strong impact on Bangladesh’s relations with India. The Indian stance on the Rohingya crisis has led to anger in Bangladesh. The sentiment gaining in Bangladesh is that India is giving priority to its strategic goals and using the crisis to improve relations with Myanmar. Principally, it is bringing out distrust against India and signs of tensions are growing between Bangladesh and India among Bangladesh citizens. India's disregarding of Rohingyas' plight is fueling not just anti-Indian feelings within Bangladesh but also Islamic rhetoric. On the one hand it is pushing Bangladesh to seek closer relations with Muslim countries in the ASEAN region and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), as well as the West and the UN. On the other hand, it is affecting other regional initiatives as well. For example, in September 2017, India dissociated itself from the Bali Declaration of the World Parliamentary Forum of Sustainable Development after clauses were introduced by Turkey (seconded by Bangladesh) on the Rohingya crisis. In the same month, Prime Minister of Bangladesh used a speech to BIMSTEC, ostensibly a platform for economic cooperation, to highlight the challenges faced by Bangladesh in relation to the Rohingya refugee influx. Bangladesh used to consider India always 'a special friend'. But now, with the naked support of India in favor of Myanmar stroke a division along pro and anti-Indian lines within the government. Aside from this Indian stand in favor of Myanmar, India also expressed that it wishes to expel the roughly 40,000 Rohingya already living in the country on the plea that their presence poses a threat to national security. Thus, in a sense, Bangladesh’s strategic problems are being sacrificed for the meeting of those goals. This disappointed and frustrated Bangladesh totally. In an official visit to Myanmar in September 2017, Indian Prime Minister did not mention anything about the refugee crisis at all, rather he expressed concern about ‘extremist violence’ in Rakhine, and expressed solidarity with the Myanmar government in its fight against terrorism. The failure by Prime Minister of India to address regarding what Bangladesh is facing out of Rohingya crisis during his visit to Myanmar aroused particular anger. Sooner, India realize the consequences and later issued a statement expressing concern about the outflow of refugees from Rakhine and it has been sending humanitarian assistance to refugee camp in Bangladesh. However, some argue that the motivation in this is less to help Bangladesh as to further Indian interests. Constantino Xavier (cited in Japan Times, 2017) argues that, ‘India’s increasing willingness and capacity to act as a first responder to emergencies in the region’, the aid indicates ‘its preoccupation in stemming the refugee flow in Bangladesh, reducing their incentives to cross the border into India’.
Regarding China and India, historically, though these two countries are strategic rivals. But, both are now pursuing pro-Myanmar strategy on the Rohingya conflict. The reasons are clear to establish their influence and stronghold, stability in Rakhine is as important for geo-political and economic interest of India as it is for China. But at the end, China is likely to take advantage of the Rohingya crisis to edge out India, its decades-old rival, as recently echoed by Yohei Sasakawa, Japan's special envoy for national reconciliation in Myanmar. That is, the longer the Rohingya crisis continues, probably more detrimental it would be for India.
EMERGENCE OF STRONG MILITANT GROUP, ARSA
Militancy among Rohingya refugees are inevitable, when the problem would remain unsettled for a longer period, thus, the emergence of ARSA (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) or whose Arabic name is Harakah Al-Yaqin, is something that should be a concern for all. It was formed out of the grievances when the Rohingya refugees used to live in Myanmar. But it was very small in strength and very weakly equipped. In the early hours of Aug 25, this group simultaneously attacked 30 police check posts and an army base in the northern side of the Rakhine state. This is by far the most audacious and damaging attack by the insurgents who are mostly equipped with nothing but machetes, few small arms and hand-held explosives. The emergence of such an armed group with the supports of many terrorist groups or similar organizations cannot be ruled out. The creation of such terrorist group is never welcomed by any country wanting peace and stability in this region. The rising terrorism which is created and sustained by oppression and ignoring the rights of minority group, will espouse to gain credibility in the Muslim world whose natural support for this oppressed group of Muslims is only obvious.
LATEST STATE OF THE CRISIS
Whatever and however the situation, the burden of caring for and nurturing the displaced Rohingya has fallen to Bangladesh and utter appreciating that the response of the Bangladeshi people and the government has been quite extraordinary. Bangladesh government quickly deployed the Army, Navy, Air Forces and other para-military organized forces in a non-combatant role along the border, necessary camps for the Rohingya are being rapidly constructed. All kinds of efforts have been made to register the refugees and providing them with an Identity cards. The general people are very supportive collecting necessary resources and delivery to the camps, Shelter and food are gradually being managed. Though the medical problems are enormous but government of Bangladesh is trying her best to support them. The response of the ordinary people of Bangladesh has been extraordinary, and stands in contrast to the cruelty of the Myanmarese.
On the other side in Myanmar, Aong Suu Kyi is responding to her domestic politics and her government. The Myanmar government has consciously rejected reports of the UN, human rights groups, and the media on the unprecedented destruction and bulldozing of Rohingya villages in the Rakhine State. Her government also did not implement the recommendations of the 2017 Kofi Annan-led Special Advisory Commission's report which include restoration of rights and citizenship of the Rohingyas. Rather than immediately implementing Annan's recommendations, Suu Kyi requested Thai former Foreign Minister to Chair an Advisory Board to the Committee on the Implementation of the Recommendation on Rakhine State, where it is said that Thai former Foreign Minister and Thailand was biased to Myanmar. Ultimately, Annan's Commission report was almost inactive. While the ability to implement the Annan recommendations is in doubt, Myanmar has established yet another “independent” board led by former Deputy Foreign Minister of Philippines to investigate human-rights violations in Rakhine. This advisory board was almost insincere about addressing Rohingya's plight.
During the past few months, Bangladesh government and high ranking diplomats have raised the issue at different international summits. As a result, a global consensus has been reached on the Rohingya issue. The European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Muslim countries around the world have repeatedly condemned Myanmar. The US House of Representatives has already approved sanctions on Myanmar military officials. The Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC-CFM) Dhaka summit declared that the Myanmar's crackdown on the Rohingyas constituted a "blatant violation" of international law. The OIC held that the Myanmar government and voiced that Myanmar must be held accountable for the persecution of the Rohingyas. The UNSC pressed Myanmar's government to initiate independent probe into allegations of violent oppression against Rohingya Muslims and facilitate immediate aid access to the Rakhine state. Despite initial opposition, Myanmar's ally and patron, veto-wielding China accepted an amended British-drafted UNSC statement on "accountability" to reported genocide.
In an apparent effort to quiet criticism, Myanmar reached an agreement with Bangladesh saying refugees would start returning home before January 23, 2018. Basing on that, bilateral repatriation agreement and its implementation were done both by Bangladesh government and Myanmar to set out the repatriation framework and processes. The first document, the “Arrangement on Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State,” was signed by the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar on 23 November 2017 and outlines the criteria for refugees who wish to return, as well as general commitments from each country, including Myanmar’s commitment to implement the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The second document, the “Terms of Reference for the Joint Working Group on the Repatriation of Displaced Myanmar Residents from Bangladesh,” was signed by the two governments on 19 December 2017 and details the formation and responsibilities of the joint working group tasked with overseeing the specifics of the repatriation process. The third document, the “Physical Arrangement for Repatriation of Displaced Myanmar Residents from Bangladesh,” was signed on 16 January 2018 and contains additional details of the repatriation plan, including the transfer and verification processes, as well as commitments from the Myanmar government to not place returnees in internally displaced persons camps.
According to those agreements between the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar, Bangladesh was scheduled to begin repatriating refugees to Myanmar on 23 January 2018. But on 22 January 2018, the Bangladeshi government announced that the repatriation timeline had been delayed due to concerns about conditions for return in Myanmar and a belief that safe, voluntary repatriation would not be possible at that point in time. Government officials in Bangladesh have also informed that the Myanmar government’s willingness to agree to repatriation was largely the result of international pressure. To quote Commander-in Chief of Armed Forces, Min Aung Hlaing, "the decision as to who returns and when should not be left to governments. It should be for residents inside Myanmar to decide. Emphasis must be placed on wish of local Rakhine ethnic people who are real Myanmar citizens". This clearly indicates their concerns about Myanmar’s willingness to provide a conducive environment for returnees, particularly as discriminatory laws and policies that caused Rohingya to flee remain intact.
What is visualized that with the basis of the newly agreed above three agreements, the repatriation process is very unlikely and time-consuming. Because, key wording contained in these documents is vague and includes problematic language that weakens the commitments made in the overall agreement. For example, Myanmar’s commitment to grant freedom of movement for returnees, included in the 23 November 2017 Arrangement, is limited by a clause specifying that such freedom must be “in conformity with existing laws and regulations” in Myanmar. Such language is particularly problematic, given that existing policies are discriminatory and arbitrarily restrict freedom of movement for Rohingya. Another example is Myanmar’s commitment in the same document to take measures to “halt the outflow of Myanmar residents to Bangladesh” and to restore “normalcy” to northern Rakhine State. Such wording leaves an opening for Myanmar to sidestep the need to address serious ongoing persecution faced by Rohingya prior to August 2017, which lies at the root of the crisis. Furthermore, according to the “Arrangement,” refugees’ right to return to their place of original residence or to a safe and secure place nearby, it was said that, it will only be “encouraged” by Myanmar, and not guaranteed. Meanwhile, though the original “Arrangement” and the 16 January 2018 “Physical Arrangement” both state that UNHCR and other interested international partners would be invited to take part in various stages of the repatriation process, they do not guarantee the participation of UNHCR or other relevant organizations in the supervision of this process.
Most saddening is that, Rohingyas demands for citizenship, compensation for property destroyed, right of return to their original homes and villages, freedom to practice their religion, and justice for family members killed were not included within the repatriation framework agreed to between the two governments. Rather, it was illustrated that the Muslim minority should be allowed to return freely, safely and in dignity, by providing evidence of their residency and valid identity as per the Myanmar's citizenship law, which something many say they do not have.
As on today, no Rohingya is been repatriated and Bangladesh government is trying to manage the situation by themselves both by providing shelters, administrative supports and continuing the negotiations for necessary repatriation of the displaced Rohingya back to Myanmar.
There is no military solution to such crises and the returns are supposed to be voluntary. But refugees in Bangladesh are afraid to go back as they don't trust the nationalist led government and feel widely hated by the general population. The refugees think that the Myanmar government and military point of view about Rohingyas is that Rohingyas are violent, militant terrorists and threat to existential system and the Myanmar government would never allow refugees to return in large numbers back to Myanmar. They also think that when the Myanmar government is itself the perpetrator or facilitator of these egregious human rights violations, how so easily the solution of repatriation will be easy or guaranteed? Or is repatriation of all the refugees a solution to this crisis? If it is, then the problem would not have continued after 1978 or 1992 repatriation. The Rohingya refuges consider that if the Myanmar government ensures citizenship and legal rights of Rohingya, the repatriation may not solve the problem permanently. The persecution and exodus of Rohingya may repeat if not root causes are addressed by Myanmar. With so many obstacles, however, and no real sign of good will, how it can be believed that Rohingya Muslims who fled the country by the hundreds of thousands would start their journey back home within weeks?
Thereby, a durable solution for the Rohingya in Myanmar depends on their ability to return home without having to face state-sanctioned violence and ensuring their protection under the rule of law, requires rebuilding their communities, with assistance from international humanitarian aid workers, and meaningful efforts at reconciliation among the various ethnicities in Rakhine and other states. Thereby, a pragmatic multipronged approach is needed here that involves brokering a political solution, creating conditions in Myanmar that can help the Rohingya return home, and helping Bangladesh cope with the presence of what is likely to be a new long-term population. Unless the warnings by the international community are backed by credible threat, the Myanmar government and Myanmar’s armed forces will just not care Bangladeshis diplomats have already reached out to different countries including China and India and several regional organizations such as Organization of Islamic Countries, Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), European Union and BIMSTEC (a sub-regional organization) expressing their situation and seeking a redresses. Though Bangladesh has gained worldwide recognition for its receptiveness to refugees, however none of them have been of much help except the offer of aid that has poured in from different countries.
Whatever the situation is, Bangladesh must raise the question of Rohingya refugees, as well as the root causes that led them to flee from Myanmar, at regional meetings, including future ASEAN Summits. Open up meaningful dialogue with the Myanmar government and military to push for the abolishment of discriminatory policies and practices that inhibit a resolution of the crisis, and to ensure that the Myanmar government and military work to resolve the root causes of the crisis in a genuine and timely manner. To materialize such implementation, the followings can be few steps as part of the solutions:
TO THE GOVERNMENT OF MYANMAR
TO THE GOVERNMENT OF BANGLADESH
TO THE INTERNATIONAL BODIES
Trouble with the Rohingya presence in Myanmar is not a new issue. Discriminatory policies of Myanmar’s government since the late 1970s have compelled hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya to flee their homes in the predominantly Buddhist country. Most have crossed by land into Bangladesh, while others have taken to the sea to reach Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, KSA, Australia etc. There have been frequent repressive periods in the past resulting vicious and cruel assault on human group that qualifies for crimes against humanity and probably even genocide. It is nothing but a story of the cruelty and signals deep social sickness of a society, who are loathing recognizing the Rohingyas as a separate ethnic group. This happen because that would automatically entitle Rohingya for a separate state, as Myanmar states are formed on the basis of ethnicity. The authorities consider the Rohingya, whether recent arrivals or long-time residents, a source of instability in the country, and not as citizens or as an ethnic group. They also consider that if Myanmar government gives the concentration of the Rohingyas next to Bangladesh, where Islam is becoming increasingly radical, would bring future disaster to Buddhists. In fact, if the Rohingyas had a self-identify as just a religious group, they could enjoy citizenship rights like other Muslims in the rest of Myanmar. Aside from the above perception, it is to be noted here from third dimension that, the repression of the Rohingya is not just mere about ethnic cleavages and identity politics; but also about natural resources. For centuries, the Rohingya have been living in the Arakan area between Myanmar and Bangladesh. But once modern state boundaries were established, land became a precious and profitable asset. Laws were introduced by the military junta government and ramped up in the 1990s, disenfranchising rural farmers so that others could profit and to promote economic growth.
Many a time, Rohingyas who were desperate to flee religious atrocities and genocide in Myanmar and took shelter in Bangladesh but since 2017, the conflict between these two communities didn't limit to only intra community clash but turned to complete cleansing. With the involvement of Myanmar Army and Buddhist radical groups, it turned into a nationalist rhetoric. Since 2017, Myanmar became empty of Rohingya either by killing them, or ousting them from their land and forced them to get out of Myanmar. The response of Myanmar government and Tatmadaw in retaliation to the attack by the so called Rohingya insurgents was disproportionate. In the same way, the response of International community, particularly the Western and Muslim countries are also disproportionate. The way the International communities, regional powers had been reacting on the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, or 1992 ethnic cleansing campaign in the former Yugoslav republics of Bosnia and Serbia, or the similar ethnic cleansing in Darfur region of Sudan in the past, in the same way these organizations or regional powers didn’t respond when millions of Rohingyas had been undergoing the equal or even worst situation in Rakhine State of Myanmar. The reasons are many. Some had geo-political interest on the area, some had economical interests, and some had nothing to do with such crisis at all. Thereby, the crisis is taking time for both negotiations and necessary settlements. The crisis now raises geopolitical risks for Asia as a whole, including terrorism and social unrest.
In the meanwhile, Bangladesh being the neighboring country and Muslim oriented nations, is suffering a lot with these huge Rohingya population. Bangladesh has already a population of nearly 160 million and it annual GDP is not that much sufficient to deal with its own population yet.On the other hand, rising number of almost a million refugees are not only the burden to her but also an emergency the country has to deal with. The crisis has already hampered the economy to sever degree along with all other issues such as social, security and others. These huge displaced Rohingyas now occupying a good amount of lands inside Bangladesh territory creating problems with locals, making deforestation, rising security hazards, and putting extra pressure on economy. If the crisis is not settled within short time, this could effect on total national politics, sovereignty, as well as risk on regional as well as global affairs.
It is needless to mention that, when in 2012, there were almost two hundred thousand of Rohingya fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh under Myanmar’s oppressive torture, Bangladesh should have taken a lesson out of the crisis and do some homework in case more exoduses takes place in future. Though, during those times, many Rohingyas were repatriated back to Myanmar with the help of International communities but the crisis was not settled permanently. Thereby, Bangladesh should have made future strategic homework against such exodus if happened in future. As there were no contingency plan outlined by Bangladesh, hence, during 2017, when huge Rohingya were pushed inside Bangladesh in the name of Bengali, Bangladesh had nothing to do within such short span of time and had to allow them in. At the moment almost 800,000 Rohingyas are here inside Bangladesh. Now how can Bangladesh stop or respond to such crisis done by neighboring country and their security forces? There should be responses on two fronts, one through diplomatic and another one is through military means. On the diplomatic front, Bangladesh has to keep trying to convince Myanmar to take back their people from her soil with full security. On the defense front, Bangladesh has to give a strong message to Myanmar that no instigation along her border will be allowed.
With the above strategy on diplomatic front, after continuous endeavor made by Bangladesh government and officials at different International forums, the crisis is being addressed, though late, by various agencies, International communities and other global and regional powers. Each of one had a different type of reaction basing on their own interest actually. India’s response to the Rohingya issue was based on envisaging balancing its security and moralism on humanitarian concept. They calibrated the issue on an understanding of the history and complexities of Myanmar politics of multiple ethnicities and legitimacy. China has not only declared her open support for Myanmar’s courses of actions against Rohingyas, but also expanded its political and economical influence in the country. UK has also voiced concern that the international community must look upon the Rohingya crisis to prevent further escalation and do the necessary needful for justified repatriation. In case of ASEAN, as per the declaration on Protection and promotion, ASEAN only focuses only migrant workers and does not mention anything on refugees or asylum seekers. Thus, ASEAN's lack of a political and legal framework to deal with issues related to refugees. ASEAN must develop a refugee and asylum policy that includes guidance for action to be taken when a Member State's internal issues cause people to flee to neighboring states. Such a policy agreed by all ASEAN Member States. As far as OIC, the Organization remains relatively calm over the issue. It may be that the Middle East is distracted by its own set of crises especially refugee crisis sparked by years of upheaval in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan. Moreover, the formation of Saudi led Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) creates sharp division in the member states of the OIC. Even big donor stale of the OIC, Saudi Arabia’s response to the current Rohingya crisis in contrast to previous, has noticeably low key. Advocacy groups including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Criminal Court, the Arakan Project, and Fortify Rights appeal for international pressure on Myanmar’s government against prosecutors’ jurisdiction over alleged war crimes that forced the exodus of Rohingya to Bangladesh. Turkish has highlighted the collective responsibility of Muslim states toward the Rohingya and said Turkey would raise the issue at the UN General Assembly in New York. UN Secretary has described the violence as ethnic cleansing and the humanitarian situation as catastrophic. Rights groups and other UN leaders suspect acts of genocide have taken place. Other Security Council members, including Russia and China, have resisted increasing pressure on Myanmar’s government because they say it is trying to restore stability. Thereby, to resolve the Rohingya crisis, even if UN likes to establish a peacekeeping operation, the UN. Security Council is not in a position to do so because it needs to adopt a resolution, but such a move lacks consensus among major powers as China, a permanent Security Council member, that could block or veto a resolution. At last the United Nations head has spoken and sent out a warning to the Nobel laureate and Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, to halt her army offensive that has forced hundreds of thousands of the Muslim Rohingya minority to flee to neighboring Bangladesh and take appropriate steps to repatriate the Rohingya back to Myanmar. But, Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi is not in a position to command or has no real authority over the military. With such a response, it is difficult to see an end to the current impasse.
Bilateral talks between Myanmar and Bangladesh on Rohingya crisis have taken place. There are few agreements are already made between both Bangladesh and Myanmar government for necessary repatriation of Rohingya. Yet, Myanmar security forces trying to create panic among the Rohingyas so that they become unwilling to return to Rakhine state. This double standard of the Myanmar authorities is sending two messages. Firstly, there is no coordination between the civil authority and the military authority. Secondly, they may have secretly adopted this strategy to carry out negotiation for repatriation on one hand while the military carries out operations to jeopardize the repatriation on the other. On the other side, the international communities are also highlighting that Myanmar is not a secure place to send Rohingyas back. This way the Myanmar military will be able to achieve their goal to uproot Rohingyas from their motherland.
If the refugee crisis continues to spiral out of control, it could destabilize the situation all around the world, possibly creating a breeding ground for terrorist groups beyond any of the government's reach, much like today's Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. If human rights concerns are not properly addressed and if the population remains politically and economically marginalized, this may provide fertile issue for radicalization, as local communities may become increasingly vulnerable to recruitment by extremists.
These serious risks equally draw terrorist fighters in from elsewhere in the region or world, as has occurred in Mindanao in the Philippines, where they have joined and further inflamed a domestic insurgency. It is not difficult to imagine the Rohingya crisis and its side effects prompting societies to turn inward. Thereby, before the escalation becomes out of control, the root causes of this crisis such as long standing discrimination, persecution and lack of citizenship etc cannot be ignored. There is a need for a comprehensive peace process, which recognizes the ethnic and religious diversity within Myanmar. And incentives, such as improving infrastructure, access to services and livelihoods, may also be needed to ensure there for a lasting solution that allows the Rohingya return and thrive as part of Myanmar society.
Short Biography of the Author
Major Mohammad Akhtar Hossain (Retd) was commissioned in 1985 with 13th BMA Long Course from Bangladesh Military Academy, Bhatiary. He served in various Artillery units in both Command and Staff level. He served as General Staff Officer in 11 Infantry Division as GSO-2(Ops) from 1998 to 2002, served as General Staff Officer in Military Training Directorate as GSO-2( Trg) in Army Head Quarters from 2002 to 2003. Major Akhtar (Retd) did his Staff College from DSCSC at Mirpur in 1998. He completed his Officers’ Gunnery Staff Course in 2003 from Artillery Center and School, Halishahor. Major Akhtar (Retd) served in Haiti under United Nations Mission in Haiti (UNMIH) for restoration of democracy in Haiti from 1995 to 1996. He also worked with United Nations Observer Missions in Georgia (UNOMIG) in Georgia in 2003. Major Akhtar (Retd) accrued three post graduate degrees in his careers, which are MDS (Masters in Defense Studies) from National University, MSc ( Masters in Science) from Bangladesh University of Professionals, and MBA (Masters in Business Administration) from AIUMT. He also has been awarded with PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) in 2007-2008. At present, Major Akhtar (Retd) is doing business of his own and holding the port-folio of Managing Director of River Side Sweaters Limited, An-Noor Fashion Apparels, MAA Industries Limited, and others.