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Rohingya realities one year on

  • Published at 06:41 pm August 26th, 2018
All hope is not lost MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU

What kind of progress can we expect with the Rohingya crisis moving forward?

It was last August when a surge of human beings came into Bangladesh as their villages burned in the backdrop. The military crackdown by the Myanmar army, aimed at uprooting what they call Rohingya insurgents, triggered the mass exodus. 

One year on, we all know that what happened in Rakhine state was similar to a calculated purging operation.

Photos emerged of mass graves, while traumatized residents of camps have talked about systematic rape, killing, maiming, and general brutality. While there were frenzied discussions of repatriation at the end of 2017, the real picture speaks otherwise. 

In fact, in an op-ed I wrote about six-months ago, I argued that, despite agreements, the going-back process will be protracted. Common sense states that you cannot just send back deeply scarred people to the place where they were treated savagely not too long ago. 

The possibility of dialogue

One year on, we should stop talking about “dialogue” because Myanmar does not speak the language of compromise -- they persistently keep on rationalizing the actions of their army by saying that the world is only looking at the Rohingya issue from one angle. 

When so many people fled to save lives, what other angle becomes important, is something of a mystery here. 

Anyway, not once has the sham civilian government in the military-ruled country admitted to their human rights violations, which border on genocide.

In fact, in the first six months after the Rohingya crisis, they rejected all accusations of mistreatment, with the Nobel-laureate-in-charge playing along with the tune with remarkable docility. 

Even after grisly photos began to appear, the brazen repudiation went on, with Aung San Suu Kyi delivering the lines bludgeoned into her, looking unfazed in front of the world. 

One year on, reality has taught us that dialogue is useless. It will only raise hopes but deliver nothing tangible. An agreement was signed, with no progress on the ground. 

This is Myanmar’s tactic: They will resort to seemingly benevolent rhetoric while talking about repatriation, extend support to any plan while remaining totally uncommitted on the ground.  

Since dialogue is fruitless then why should international dignitaries visit Myanmar and talk with Suu Kyi?

It seems more like a theatre of the absurd: People go to Myanmar and meet the civilian face of the government, put on solemn faces, and come out to tell the media that a process of dialogue is taking place and soon there will be progress. 

I don’t know about others, but this act has lost its appeal -- maybe some new trick needs to be adopted so people can be deceived for another year. 

Stranded for good 

Call me a cynic if you will, but given how the situation has evolved over the last year, one feels that these people will not be able to go back; at least, not anytime soon. 

Therefore, the question that Bangladesh should now discuss is the method to accommodate them for a longer period, and think of ways to make such a large population into a resourceful one. 

One American aid worker who was in Bangladesh, came up with a practical idea: Dividing up groups based on age and provide comprehensive training to them in handicrafts, IT, sports, and other skills. 

“Once they are trained, the best ones can be helped to set up small enterprises within the camp areas, giving service to both camp residents and outsiders.” 

The government can look into such an initiative in Bhashanchar, where, reportedly, Tk200 crore has already been spent in order to develop accommodation and infrastructure. 

At this point, we need to accept the reality of an added population who are here for safety, and they are not going back any time soon. 

Just a hollow rhetoric? 

As for the much vaunted international pressure to compel Myanmar to admit to committing crimes against humanity and adopt a transparent repatriation policy, reality shows that the government in Myanmar doesn’t give two hoots about what is being said of them at the global stage. 

Despite widespread condemnation, world media reporting about the pogrom of the Rohingya, the Burmese administration has remained blatantly blasé about what they have done.  

At times, they have gone as far as to play down the intolerant face of radical Buddhism which seriously threatens Myanmar’s social harmony.  

It’s also evident that visits to the Rohingya camps by global celebrities have done very little to influence Myanmar. 

The oft-repeated rationale for such visits -- that when a notable person is in the Rohingya camps, highlighting the catastrophic situation, the world will sit up and take action -- has fallen flat. Not once, but several times. 

Therefore, this tactic has also lost its credibility. 

In the real scenario, no country has imposed any biting embargos on Myanmar or taken a stern measure to isolate it from global associations. Some awards were withdrawn and bans imposed on a few generals. A hell lot of good that will do.

Whenever development organization representatives are asked about high-profile visits, they also deliver the indoctrinated line of such trips attracting global attention. 

Of course, for many such bodies, the crisis is like a blessing since its sustenance will ensure more jobs, many adding the least possible value to the overall rehabilitation effort. 

Naturally, when such a juggernaut support initiative is going on, who will have the patience to ensure transparency at all levels?   

There is still hope, however

No, I am not going to use clichés like “concerted effort,” “constructive dialogue,” “international pressure,” or the most annoying “an evolving process” simply because development experience has taught me their utter futility. 

But let’s not be cynical. What I see in the next year or so is the accommodation of some Rohingya in Bhashanchar, widespread medical assistance in the camps, and efforts by certain NGOs to set up counselling centres at the camps to sensitize people about beguiling proposals of overseas work which masquerades human trafficking.  

Not much, but this is the real world where progress is slow with prevarication and duplicitous rhetoric blocking every forward move. 

In August 2019, we may be writing the same lines, and despite Aung San Suu Kyi’s opaque role, the West may still be reticent in denouncing her.  

Let’s just say, act one of the play done… more to follow.

Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.