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Back to the drawing board

  • Published at 05:43 pm November 17th, 2018
Rohingya Refugee
File photo of a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

This half-baked repatriation plan would never have worked 

From the start, the repatriation plan made very little sense.

Not to say safely sending the Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar isn’t the best possible solution in theory, but so many things need to happen before we get to that point that any initiative for repatriation without dealing with those issues first is bound to be a fiasco.

From a humanitarian standpoint, Bangladesh has done very well so far -- kudos to us for not forcing the Rohingya to go back to Rakhine state; that decision was the correct one not just because it was the right thing to do, but also because it would have been a PR disaster in front of the world if pictures came out of Bangladeshi officials dragging hapless Rohingya women and children kicking and screaming back to the land where they experienced untold horrors.

Bangladesh would lose its goodwill and hero status in the eyes of the global community faster than America had lost its post-9/11 sympathies after Bush 43 started bombing and invading countries.

So thankfully, sanity prevailed and the poorly thought-out repatriation plan was called off.

But that leaves a question lingering in the air -- who exactly thought this would actually work?

The Rohingya on our side of the border have left everything to come here with a few meagre possessions if even that, and their lives back in Rakhine are a chapter they would rather close for good.

So when no one, not a single person from the initial list of 2,260 refugees, showed up for voluntary repatriation, was anyone surprised in the least?

For over a year, Bangladesh has done a supremely commendable job of housing, sheltering, and caring for the approximately one million Rohingya who have crossed the border and are now staying at refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Living conditions aren’t the best, but they are still better than what the refugees have left behind.

Indeed we have done things that few -- possibly none -- of the other countries of the world would have done; straining our own resources above and beyond our basic duty and giving a home to a population the size of a small country is truly remarkable, and no Bangladeshi wants to see this humanitarian achievement tarnished.

Why then, come up with a half-baked plan that could undo it all -- a plan that defies common sense?

To this date, the Myanmar government categorically denies the brutal ethnic cleansing operations that have been carried out in the Rakhine state for quite some time now.

There are mountains of evidence about the atrocities that have taken place, even though journalists within Myanmar’s borders who go around poking for information get swiftly dealt with by a regime that has no patience for a free press.

Even the world at large has woken up to the realities; the UN secretary-general himself has visited the refugee camps and has said: “Their horrific experiences defy comprehension, yet they are the reality for nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees.”

But all we have gotten from Myanmar regarding the matter is denial. Even Aung San Suu Kyi, once upon a time something of a respected figure in the world of human rights, has stuck to her government’s official line of saying nothing bad has been done to anyone, only a few ARSA terrorists have been dealt with (Myanmar does not use the word “Rohingya”).

The Rohingya should be able to go back to their homes, but for that, they need citizenship, which they have been denied for so long.

They need rights, they need credible assurances, they need safeguards against further violations of their trust.

The Rohingya have been betrayed by their own country their entire lives, so it is understandable if they do not take the words of a few government officials at face value; if Myanmar means to change its ways, it must open up to foreign observers and human rights organizations.

If no further wrong-doing is to happen in Rakhine state, let the world make sure of that for the next few years.

Because, let’s face it, Myanmar officials have been lying about a lot of things for a long time. Is there any conceivable reason to believe they are telling the truth now? 

Abak Hussain is Editor, Editorial and Op-Ed, Dhaka Tribune.