Currently, the Bangladeshi and Myanmar governments are “working together” to make way for the first batch of Rohingya refugees to go back to their homes in Rakhine state.
Bangladesh is working with the UNHCR in this regard, while Myanmar has, unsurprisingly, said it does not want the UN organisation’s involvement in the entire process. It prefers Red Cross instead.
One balks at such an operation being successful in any shape or form.
Whatever deal is signed, whoever is involved, even the very notion of almost a million amongst a highly persecuted minority finding safe space in the country they fled from is suspicious at best.
For one to doubt its success, one needn’t go back to last August, when the last leg of the crisis started. Therein lies the problem: This is not a minor phase in history.
The persecution of the Rohingya goes back decades into the past, where they have been systematically treated as nothing more than third-class citizens, pigeonholed into a small area, bottlenecked and suffocated, struggling to survive every day.
We are expected, at this point in time, to forget the entire history of Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya? We are expected now to pretend as if, in the last six to seven months, Myanmar has changed its stance on their derogatorily-termed “Bangalees” completely, enough to treat them with the least amount of human decency (which they have continuously failed to do), to say nothing of their rights, of equality?
We are expected to open our mouths wide and swallow the artificially sweetened pill of Myanmar’s faux justice?
We think not.
For Myanmar (and Bangladesh and the various diplomats and government officials and the NGOs, too) to convince us that this deal is anything short of an eyewash, it needs to do a lot more than offer pithy statements and promises.
They have continued to emphasise on “voluntary return.” The Rohingya have, understandably, not taken Myanmar’s word for it. For one, because of the points mentioned above.
For two, considering the extent of their hardships in Rakhine, the Rohingya have a sweeter deal, with continuous rations which provide for them and their families, and have cultivated an entire economy inside the camps.
And what would they return to, anyway? Charred lands, buried bodies, burnt homes?
This is no one’s idea of a suitable return, and the fact that Myanmar has continuously denied aid group involvement and, more tellingly, refused to have eyes on the ground in Rakhine with it being completely closed off to outsiders, adds potential fuel to a potential fire.
Reports still remain of continued army actions against the Rohingya, though, at this point in time, it has become increasingly difficult to know what the truth is without first-hand knowledge of the situation. With almost a million people within a small space, and with the economy that has somewhat flourished in the camps, capitalism has reared its ugly horn and has turned a crisis intro an opportunity.
Extremists, NGOs, governments, refugees, nobody is free from the clutches of greed, and the current humanitarian crisis is no exception.
Home is more than Rakhine
Home is conceptual; land is not. While Rakhine has been the location of generations of the Rohingya being born, because it remains within Myanmar, and because it must follow its laws and regulations, and because the people there have continued to suffer, the concept of home does not go hand-in-hand with its location.
For true repatriation, the Rohingya must not return to Rakhine, but to Myanmar. There’s a significant difference. Even if the Rohingya are left to their own devices, and we believe, miraculously, that the army will have stopped torturing them and burning their homes, what sort of existence would it be to stay within the confines of a single area?
The problem here is social, and if Facebook comments are anything to go by, the Myanmar people themselves must be willing to change their perceptions of these “outsiders,” and welcome them into the mainstream. They need to be a part of Myanmar’s bloodline, be provided with the right amount of education so that they may contribute to the economy, and be part of its social and cultural existence.
How else can we expect any sort of repatriation? What the Rohingya have with Myanmar is nothing short of an abusive relationship. And earning that trust back requires more than signing a piece of paper.
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.