Six months have passed since the latest influx from Myanmar’s Rakhine state started, but there has been no real headway in ending the ongoing Rohingya crisis.
Nearly 700,000 Rohingyas managed to save their lives fleeing into Bangladesh after a military crackdown began in Rakhine on August 25 last year, leaving behind all their belongings and property.
On humanitarian ground, Bangladesh allowed the Rohingyas to stay at the refugee camps set up in Cox’s Bazar’s Ukhiya and Teknaf upazilas, where several hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas were already living for many years.
Although the process of providing shelter feels like somewhat of a burden to the locals and the government as the days have progressed, Rohingyas are always expressing their gratefulness to the people of Bangladesh and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Not just the host community, foreign delegates who have visited the refugee camps in the last six months have also termed the crisis a burden for a least developed country like Bangladesh.
Stating that the root of the Rohingya crisis lies in Myanmar, PM Hasina has been urging the international community to keep pressurizing Myanmar for an early and peaceful solution.
She has also emphasized secured and dignified return of Rohingyas to their homeland.
Prof Hamidul Haque Chowdhury, president of Rohingya Protyabason Songram Committee, said the livelihoods of the general population in Ukhiya, Teknaf, Ramu and other parts of Cox’s Bazar, a coastal district, were in complete disarray because of the crisis.
“House rent, land price, transport fare, educational state and prices of daily commodities are getting out of control day by day. The law and order situation is also deteriorating. Besides, some local and international NGOs are operating flouting Bangladesh’s rules and social norms,” he said.
Hamidul said: “Our daily life is now in peril. If this situation continues, the future generation of the area will suffer the most. So, there is no alternative to repatriating the Rohingyas.”
Echoing with the local social activist, Ukhiya Awami League unit President Prof Adil Chowdhury termed the refugees a burden for the country, but added that that the government was trying its best to resolve the issues.
About 75% of the Rohingyas are sheltered in Ukhiya.
All praises for the hosts
While locals are getting increasingly restive, the refugees on the other hand have nothing but praise for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the Bangladeshis, for sheltering and helping them.
“However we are not ready to return home as we still fear that Rakhine is not safe for us as yet,” said Dil Mohammad and Arif Uddin, two leaders of the Rohingyas who are living in the no man’s land between Myanmar’s Tambru and Bangladesh’s Konarpara border points.
Sheltered in Kutupalong camp, Rohingya leader Abu Hares told the Dhaka Tribune: “Bangladeshis are sacrificing a lot for us. They have shared their lands to give us shelter. We will never forget such great help.”
Thanking the Bangladesh government and the local and international NGOs, another Rohingya leader, Mohammad Islam, said: “We would have died if Bangladesh and the aid providers had not sacrificed their money, labour and time for us. They are the real lifesavers.”
Many Rohingyas from different camps echoed their leaders’ words, but maintained that they would only go back to Rakhine after the Myanmar government meets their demands regarding their rights and recognition as an ethnic minority group of the country.
They also want full implementation of the recommendations made by the Kofi Anan-led Advisory Commission on Rakhine State and Sheikh Hasina’s five-point proposal, which were raised in a recent UN meeting.
Meanwhile, Rohingyas are still coming over from Myanmar, although in small numbers. The new arrivals said they felt unsafe after being threatened and harassed at homes and villages even now.
They have come at a time when foreign aid for the refugees is gradually declining. The United Nations and a handful of international agencies are still continuing to provide aid.
Bangladesh government has started distributing all relief materials received from public and private organizations and individuals.
The repatriation of the huge number of the displaced people from Rakhine was expected to begin in January, in line with a Memorandum of Understanding signed between Myanmar and Bangladesh in November last year, but it was delayed.
Bangladesh earlier this month handed over a list of 8,032 Rohingyas to Myanmar for the first phase of repatriation.
Naypyidaw said they were verifying the list while some Myanmar dailies reported that the repatriation process would begin in March.
Different international humanitarian organisations and media reports continue to suggest that the situation in Rakhine is not normal yet.