The emerging global narrative around the Rohingya crisis has been unequivocally implicating for the leadership in Myanmar. The United Nations has just termed the Rohingya situation a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing.”
The global press from London to Canberra, from Doha to Washington have peppered their Rohingya coverage with words like “genocide,” “crimes against humanity”, “mass murder,” and “ethnic cleansing.”
These are words that may someday bear grave consequences for those currently calling the shots in Yangon -- to say the least.
Thanks to Bangladesh government’s decision to open its border, the country rightfully earned considerable global praise, and it is now in a position to shape the global narrative around the entire Rohingya crisis.
Therefore, the government must now convert this recently acquired “soft-power” into useful leverage for future negotiations.
Following are key policy guidance for the Bangladesh government to maximise its negotiation power over Myanmar regarding the Rohingyas:
Registering the Rohingya refugees is the most crucial next step that must be taken once the deluge of refugee arrival moderates.
It is understandable that implementing a registration bottle-neck at the border, while these helpless women and children were running for their lives would have been inhumane. But now that the Rohingyas are already here, identifying them as refugees is a must.
Rohingyas do not have citizenship status in Myanmar since 1974, and the Myanmar government officially calls them “illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.”
Therefore, it will be a daunting task in the future to send these Rohingyas back to Myanmar without solid proof of their refugee status in Bangladesh. However, Bangladesh government should not do the identification process itself.
Bangladesh must approach the UN to engage in an official capacity to provide UN identification cards for the Rohingya refugees.
This will have multiple advantages. For one, Myanmar will not be able to put the burden of proof of the refugee status of any Rohingya on Bangladesh government alone. UN issued ID cards will also enhance the credibility of any Rohingya applying for refugee status in other countries in the future.
Moving a motion in an appropriate international court seeking justice for the Rohingyas should be Bangladesh’s next strategic step. Bangladesh will have no shortage of credible witness accounts coming from respectable corners of the International Human Rights community in this regard.
This strategy is not going to backfire for Bangladesh, nor will this be deemed as an act of aggression on Bangladesh’s part because seeking justice in an international court on behalf of a persecuted community is the least aggressive stance a host country with million refugees can undertake.
For keeping its crucial regional allies satisfied, Bangladesh should gently communicate to India and China, who also have tremendous leverage over Myanmar, about Bangladesh’s respectful position for seeking justice in an international court on behalf of a tiny minority in question.
Every third world tyrant dreads a trial in Hague, no matter how powerful she may feel at home; no matter who her international backers are
Every third world tyrant dreads a trial in Hague, no matter how powerful she may feel at home; no matter who her international backers are. Therefore, Bangladesh must play the courts effectively.
The Bangladesh government has already made an excellent decision to take all the resident foreign missions for a tour of the Rohingya refugee camps. As a next step, more of the same should continue, where Bangladesh should take international journalists, NGOs, religious leaders, and Human Rights Organisations to the refugee camps for fact-finding missions.
The recent media attention that the Rohingya crisis has attracted will not be easy for Myanmar to ignore, particularly given that the country is trying to attract foreign direct investments. One of Myanmar’s plan was to get into the Ready Made Garments industry and take a bite out of Bangladesh’s market share.
However, it goes without saying that Myanmar, with an active ongoing ethnic cleansing, will not be able to attract global brands like Walmart to place orders for consumer apparel. Therefore, keeping the international media spotlight on Myanmar is crucial for Bangladesh to maintain as a leverage tactic.
There should be multiple Rohingya refugee camps scattered across Bangladesh, instead of concentrating all the Rohingyas in one corner of Chittagong.
This should be done after proper UN mandated identification of the Rohingya refugees have been completed. This strategy has several benefits.
Firstly, it helps generous local people and charities from various parts of Bangladesh to easily come to the aid of the Rohingya refugees, instead of leaving the already exhausted Chittagong locals to do the heavy lifting.
Secondly, this ensures Bangladesh does not someday end up with a Rohingya enclave of its own -- large enough to cause destabilisation.
The Bangladesh government and civil society must ensure that the country does not enact any draconian laws or administrative orders regarding its management of the refugees, which may destroy the international goodwill that Bangladesh has genuinely earned.
The Rohingya refugees must also be given a pathway to be socially and economically productive while they wait their time to return to their homeland in Myanmar.
Bangladesh’s innovative NGO sector should take the lead in these efforts. Re-enacting government run “food for work” programs can be an option.
The recent Rohingya refugee crisis is not only a humanitarian crisis, but also a major national security concern for Bangladesh.
Some elements within Bangladesh’s neighbouring territories, those with their own hostility towards minority Bengali or Muslim populations, are certainly taking notes of how strongly Bangladesh handles the current Rohingya crisis.
If Bangladesh plays a weak hand now, no one can guarantee that another million refugees will not arrive from some other parts of the Bangladesh border in the near future.
Therefore, staying strong and bold is the right position to take now.
Shafquat Rabbee is a social media commentator.