Bangladesh, being a country of a large population, a higher unemployment rate, small land area, and emerging economy, is struggling to accommodate the continuous Rohingya refugee influx.
The UN estimates that, since October last year, around 74,000 new Rohingya escaped to Bangladesh due to the murder and persecution at Northern Rakhine State in Myanmar. Furthermore, the Bangladesh authorities estimate that around half a million unregistered and 30,000 registered refugees are staying in Bangladesh.
In spite of neither being a party to the 1951 UNHCR Refugee Convention nor to the 1967 protocol, Bangladesh has been hosting this considerable number of Rohingya refugee population since the 1970s. This response from Bangladesh shows generosity towards the vulnerable and oppressed Rohingya; yet the Bangladeshi authorities are often seen to forcefully return the Rohingya.
However, it seems too difficult for Bangladesh to shoulder the responsibility for this extra number of refugees and asylum-seekers. This is an additional pressure on her economy, population and land. Hence, attempting for third-country resettlement could be an effective solution for Bangladesh to overcome the Rohingya crisis.
It’s been done before
Resettlement has become a vital tool for international protection and a durable solution for some of the most vulnerable people in the world.
In October 1956, thousands of Hungarian refugees (180,000) fled to its neighbouring country Austria when the uprising in Hungry was suppressed by the Soviet Union.
Another successful refugee resettlement program helped more than 100,000 Bhutanese refugees find homes in third countries. In the early 1990s, King Jigme Singye Wangchuk forced hundreds of thousands of Bhutanese (of Nepalese origin) to leave their homeland.
The vast majority moved to eastern Nepal. In spite of not being party to the UN Refugee Convention, Nepal hosted these refugees from Bhutan. In terms of repatriation of these refugees, 15 rounds of bilateral talks had taken place between the governments of Bhutan and Nepal, but no refugees were repatriated.
The Syrian refugee resettlement program is a recent example of a successful third-country refugee resettlement. Since the conflict started in 2011, millions of Syrians have been internally displaced.
The neighbouring countries generously have hosted the Syrian refugees, and many refugee camps are established with the help of UNHCR. However, some of these countries complain purely because of the pressure it puts on them.
As successful third-country resettlements are apparent, the Bangladeshi government needs to urge UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to help in resettling the Rohingya refugees to third countries
In order to relocate the Syrian refugees from these host countries, and Syria itself, the Syria Core Group (SCG) was formed in 2013. The SCG aimed to obtain sustainable multi-year pledges from the resettlement states. Over 224,000 spaces, so far, have been pledged for resettlement and other pathways.
The above three examples of resettlement show that the third-country resettlement refers to the internationalisation of refugee resettlement in which enhanced cooperation and coordination between states and UNHCR are required.
However, not all countries equally welcome refugees or show a willingness to embrace them.
In Europe, Germany has received the most asylum applications so far -- more than 315,000 by the end of October 2015. In contrast, the UK, by 2020, has pledged to take in 20,000 refugees who are currently living in camps in Syria, Turkey, and Jordan.
As successful third-country resettlements are apparent, the Bangladeshi government needs to urge UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to help in resettling the Rohingya refugees to third countries.
The UNHCR plays a catalytic role in bringing resettlement states together. The government also needs to involve the IOM, civil society groups, NGOs, and private sponsors of resettlement countries so that the resettlement is seen in the limelight.
The government’s third-country resettlement initiative will lessen the hardship of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, and Bangladesh itself also will get a relief from the extra burden to some extent.
Md Shidur Rahman is a doctorate researcher at School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work, Queen’s University Belfast, UK.