What is your take on the ongoing violence in Rakhine state?
Although the crisis appears to be serious now, it is a small manifestation of what has been really happening to Rohingya people for years. The Myanmar military started the process 50 years back with persecution, which took the form of ethnic cleansing, and now it is reaching to the level of genocide with an aim to drive out the Rohingya population completely.
What is your take on the Rohingya repatriation? How will it take place?
Repatriation has to be done immediately but the Myanmar military and government are buying time by delaying the process. Bangladesh has to be very watchful of such strategic games.
The repatriation has to happen by ensuring safety and security of the Rohingya population. One should also keep in mind – when they are repatriated, where will they go or return to? 90% of their houses have been burnt down. So, there is an urgency to build homes in their villages. If some of the houses are still there, we need to make sure that they are habitable.
There has to be international involvement like that from the United Nations and other agencies that can visit the place, build homes, and ensure the quick repatriation process. But they have to primarily ensure the safety, security, and citizenship of the Rohingya people.
If they are not provided protection, the Rohingya will be back to Bangladesh in no time. The international community must be involved not only in the repatriation process, but also during resettlement and rehabilitation processes.
The repatriation should be done through a roadmap with detailed emphasis on humanitarian and human rights, and political issues with long term, midterm, short term and immediate objectives which can be set up based on the recommendations of Kofi Annan’s Commission.
What is your take on the condition set by the Myanmar government that only the ‘verified’ Rohingyas can go back to their homeland?
Sustained international pressure is a must. The Myanmar government wants “verification” – but how could one expect that from people who fled home for saving their lives, who were shot and raped, and whose homes were burnt. How could the Myanmar government want documents from these people? This is just a game in the name of verification.
What is your take on Myanmar’s plan of setting up a ‘safe zone’ for the Rohingya in Rakhine?
A safe zone would be ideal but it has to be done through the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). If the Myanmar government is willing to sincerely protect its people from being attacked by its army and police, then it should work with the international community in good faith to make it possible.
A safe zone would guarantee security and safety for the Rohingya but the Myanmar government will have to agree to that first. There are challenges on whether they will agree with UNSC to bring peacekeeping force or not. But if that happens, it will be an ideal solution.
It has been alleged that Islamic extremist groups are active in the camps in Cox’s Bazar to recruit Rohingya people. Do you think the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) will benefit from that?
I read about ARSA on media and YouTube. They are a local group that was formed out of desperation. They have been abused and persecuted, so these people are not significant. But, there is a potential danger that they might grow and radicalize people in the refugee camps.
The longer the refugees stay in camps, the more they are exposed to radicalization. So before extremist groups gain such control, it is very important to immediately start the safe and secure Rohingya repatriation.
Do you think the role of Bangladesh government in tackling the influx was sufficient?
Bangladeshi government and people have tremendously helped the Rohingya people by opening up the country’s borders and sheltering them. It is more than enough. Within a short time-frame, the Bangladesh government was able to cope with the heavy influx.
Bangladesh deserves appreciation for such a historic and noble gesture of sheltering and feeding the Rohingya.