Rohingya Influx and Future of Repatriation

Mahbubur Rahman | 03 October 2022
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IN 2017, Bangladesh saw the largest influx of the Rohingyas from neighboring Myanmar. According to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 742,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh since August 25, 2017. The Bangladesh government’s intention was noble and humane — to help a large group of vulnerable people in great need of help. But considering the socio-economic structure of Bangladesh, the country could not extend that helping hand for a longer period. Soon, the humanitarian cause that motivated Bangladesh to give shelter to so many refugees started to become a burden.

The sudden presence of this large number of people in the Cox’s Bazar district primarily affected the whole area’s local market, population and environmental ecosystem. According to a 2019 joint report by the United Nations Development Programme and the Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh, the influx immediately caused daily essential goods prices to rise by about 50 per cent, day labourer wages to plummet and 2,500 households to fall below the poverty line.

At the same time, about 5,500 acres of reserve forests were decimated and 1,500 hectares of wildlife habitat destroyed. The local people of the Cox’s Bazar district were very welcoming at first, but soon the adverse impact of the influx started to forge a sense of negativity among them. We need to understand one thing here: Bangladesh has less than 0.31 per cent of the world population, but it is hosting 4.7 per cent of its total refugees.

Being a least developed country, the sudden addition of such a large number of people to its territory was not a regular thing for Bangladesh, especially, when the country is dealing with rising inflation due to the Russia-Ukraine war. August 25 marked the fifth anniversary of the largest influx the world has seen. From 2017 to date, no Rohingya refugees have been repatriated.

The first attempt at repatriation began when Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a repatriation agreement on November 23, 2017. However, there was no agreement on a concrete repatriation process or a deadline for completion of the repatriation. Tension escalated in the refugee camps regarding the repatriation process, with demands for a genuine guarantee of citizenship, security and a promise of returning to their original ancestral land.

In June 2018, the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations High Commissioner for Reguees signed a tripartite agreement with the Myanmar government to create favorable conditions for the Rohingyas to return. Repatriation attempts in November 2018 and August 2019 also failed because of the mistrust of Rohingyas in the Myanmar government. So, in January 2021, Bangladesh proposed a village-based repatriation process to make the Rohingya feel safe about their return.

However, Myanmar said it would like to start the process by repatriating 42,000 refugees from the list of 8,30,000 Rohingyas sheltered in Bangladesh. After a year, in January 2022, both countries resumed the talks, but Myanmar was willing to take back only 700 Rohingyas as a first step. However, there is no visible progress in repatriation.

One factor to consider in this situation is that Myanmar has received support from two permanent members of the UN Security Council — China and Russia. On December 31, 2020, China and Russia, two of the closest allies of Myanmar, supported them on a United Nations General Assembly resolution on human rights violations against the Rohingya minorities. Another surprising fact was India abstaining from voting. It is clear that Bangladesh’s neighbors have always kept their distance on the Rohingya issue. Even during the recent state visit of the prime minister of Bangladesh to India, nothing concrete was discussed on the Rohingya issue or the repatriation of Rohingya.

There can be no hope for the near future if Bangladesh fails to engage the global powers to pressure Myanmar. At the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York, the Bangladesh prime minister sought help from the international community for a permanent solution to the safe return of the Rohingyas. This is the sixth time in the United Nations General Assembly where the prime minister raised the Rohingya issue.

However, global leaders do not appear to be concerned about the issue. One piece of good news for Bangladesh is that the United States declared the 2017 Myanmar military violence on the Rohingyas as genocide on March 21, 2022. Bangladesh needs to focus on the ‘genocide’ term to pursue the international community’s support and put pressure on Myanmar.

Recently, US secretary of state Antony Blinken and the Japanese ambassador to Bangladesh, Ito Naoki, stated that both countries would increase their support for Rohingya resettlement in their countries. But the bitter fact is that unless the repatriation process begins, there can be no permanent solution to the crisis. No third country or government can resettle such large numbers of refugees like the way Bangladesh currently hosts them in its territory.

The global focus is changing because of the emergence of new crises in the world. The war in Ukraine has already shifted the global focus from the Rohingya issue. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees predicted that around $881 million would be needed to support the Rohingya refugee population throughout 2022. However, less than a half of that amount has been funded so far. The situation will become worse unless Bangladesh starts to gain global support to begin the repatriation. Regular dialogues with Myanmar are also necessary to keep them under pressure.

Mahbubur Rahman is a research assistant at the Centre for Governance Studies.

This article was originally published on New Age.
Views in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect CGS policy.