Five years into the Rohingya crisis, what's the plan?

Bangladesh has done more than enough to accommodate the Rohingya at enormous economic, environmental, and security costs

Samina Akhter

Myanmar's violent ethnic cleansing program which forced roughly a million Rohingya Muslims into Bangladeshi refugee camps, marked its fifth anniversary on August 25. During that time, the population of refugees has soared. Some 30,000 Rohingya children are born every year in Bangladesh on average. As such, the Rohingya population has risen to more than 1.2 million, according to the latest estimation by the United Nations. Their mass exodus from Myanmar was caused by junta troops' horrific attacks, which prompted three quarters of a million Rohingya to flee the country starting in August 2017. Bangladesh's permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Rabab Fatima, addressed the UN General Assembly in June, urging the group to expand its programs to return the forcibly displaced Rohingyas to Myanmar. The assurance of the Rohingya’s safe return has yet to be fulfilled. In November 2019, Gambia, on behalf of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (IOC), filed the first international lawsuit against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing the country of violating the UN Genocide Convention. The court unanimously ruled in January 2020 that Myanmar must take emergency measures to protect the Rohingya from violence and preserve evidence of a possible genocide. Separately, the ICC authorized an investigation into alleged atrocities in November 2019. The ICJ ruled on July 22 that Gambia's case for genocide would proceed despite Myanmar's preliminary objections. According to academics and rights campaigners, the ICJ ruling has opened up fresh opportunities for the international community to put pressure on the Myanmar military to provide justice for the Rohingya. Yet, the final ruling could take years. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has shifted the world's attention away from Rohingya migrants and toward millions of fleeing Ukrainians seeking asylum in a variety of European nations. The Rohingya agenda has needed to take a backseat in the face of this ongoing war and a rapidly changing world order. The point is that Myanmar is at the heart of the Rohingya catastrophe. The ruling military junta must step up its efforts to secure the refugees' voluntary and dignified return home. Bangladesh has done more than enough to accommodate the Rohingya refugees at enormous economic, environmental, and security costs; now it is time for the UN to assess the situation. Bangladesh's efforts alone will not be sufficient to bring about a long-term solution. At the same time, accountability for all transgressions and atrocities in Myanmar is critical. The international community, particularly UN member nations, has a tremendous humanitarian responsibility and commitment to Rohingya refugees. The world community must awaken from its slumber and see that the man-made crisis was caused by Myanmar's internal turmoil, which was unfairly imposed on Bangladesh. Despite a series of UN resolutions, Myanmar has showed little interest in repatriating the refugees in dignity and with full citizenship rights. Apart from UN member states, regional countries and Myanmar's commercial partners, such as China, India, Japan, Indonesia, and Germany, along with Asean and OIC countries must also step up to put pressure on Myanmar to solve this humanitarian crisis. Last but not least, if the international community fails to find a long-term solution to the humanitarian catastrophe, it must commit to taking in the forcibly displaced refugees currently sheltering in Bangladesh, as it has done with many other refugees in the past. We urge immediate action to assist in making significant progress in building the conditions for the safe, voluntary, dignified and long-term return of refugees to Myanmar. It is vital to address the core causes of Myanmar's systematic discrimination, disenfranchisement, and communal violence. We also urge the world community to remain in solidarity with Rohingya refugees, as well as the Bangladeshi government and people who are kindly hosting them. The United Nations is committed to providing active help in the future. The Rohingyas' misery must not become a political football. At a time when the funds for the Rohingyas are dwindling, and when the international community has grown evidently disinterested in safeguarding the community, the sustainable course of action that the international community should undertake is the safe and dignified repatriation of the Rohingyas through international mechanisms. For a resource-constrained country like Bangladesh, hosting so many refugees for five years has been a great challenge. Thus, we urge the world to do something for the Rohingya refugees. They are not naturally refugees. They have the right to live in the place where they were born, Myanmar, with dignity. As conscious and sentient beings, we cannot continue to ignore our responsibility to do what is right.

(Courtesy dhaka tribune)