The onus is on Bangladesh.
As the Rohingya refugee crisis deepens and Bangladesh finds itself increasingly isolated from the regional powers in terms of assistance in this regard, a viable solution must be expedited regardless.
India and China, compelled by their geo-strategic interests, have chosen to refrain from picking a side.
This essentially means that Bangladesh is left to fight a lone diplomatic battle to force an outcome. There have been various prescriptions to ensure possible resolution of the crisis.
The creation of “safe zones” and the implementation of the recommendations by the Kofi Annan Commission are the most popular ones that come to mind.
However, Bangladesh, a country plagued by its own set of problems, cannot afford to engage in such diplomatic discourse, be it internationally or domestically.
The Bangladesh diplomatic apparatus must only focus on an unconditional, safe, and honourable repatriation of the refugees by the Myanmar government at any cost, and leave no room whatsoever for alternatives. In order to achieve success, the government of Bangladesh must make full utilisation of all the resources at their disposal.
In this particular case, Bangladesh might find the West, namely the US and the EU, to be a suitable ally. They have visibly recognised this exodus of the Rohingya people as a humanitarian crisis, and have condemned the actions carried out by the Myanmar government.
While there might be geo-strategic motivations behind this position taken by the West, Bangladesh needs to keep sight of the ultimate goal and reap the benefits of having a unreliable ally in this regard.
The root of this problem does not lie in religion but in blatant disenfranchisement and marginalisation of an ethnic group simply because they look different
Furthermore, there has to be a long-term solution to this problem and thus no room can be left for a temporary resolution with a potentially recurring refugee problem.
The Myanmar government often labels the Rohingya community to be “Bengali interlopers” thus implying that they do not have the territorial right to be in the Rakhine state and hence cannot avail the benefits of a citizen.
As long as such notion of exclusive nationalism exists within the socio-political realm of Myanmar, we will continue to see this problem persist.
Thus, Bangladesh must build substantial diplomatic pressure to primarily ensure that the Mynamar government accepts the Rohingya community to be indigenous to the Rakhine state and, therefore, make sure their ethnic identity should not lead to such pogrom.
What not to do
The report released by the Kofi Annan Commission continuously refers to the Rohingya community as the “Muslim population” of the Rakhine state, and it is this particular discourse Bangladesh must avoid.
A report that does not acknowledge the ethnic identity and authenticity of the Rohingya people cannot bear any fruit in terms of resolution of this crisis.
The root of this problem does not lie in religion but in blatant disenfranchisement and marginalisation of an ethnic group simply because they look different and does not correspond to the so-called mainstream national culture.
While there has been a visit to Bangladesh by a Myanmar delegation in relation to this crisis, the statement made by Bangladesh’s foreign minister following the visit has been ambiguous at best.
He stated that a proposal to form a joint working group to identify the Rohingya refugees in order to repatriate them has been forwarded by the Myanmar delegation.
However, the modalities to identify a group of people not even acknowledged as citizens by its own state remains unclear.
It is also important to note that no evident progress has been seen since the visit either.
While it is commendable that Bangladesh is providing shelter to the Rohingya refugees pouring across its border literally every day, the ultimate success lies in their safe repatriation to their home country.
In order to do that, the Bangladesh government must make the Myanmar government accept the Rohingya people as their own.
There is no middle ground in this regard and no room for ambiguity.
If the diplomatic efforts of Bangladesh somehow get engulfed into “alternative” solutions that do not provide a permanent resolution we will gradually see a different set of problems appearing which will affect our sovereignty, stability, and social fabric.
It is time for Bangladesh to display focus and resolve in order to succeed against all odds.
Israfil Khosru is an entrepreneur and a concerned citizen.