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Is China’s Rohingya pledge mere rhetoric?

  • Published at 12:04 am July 8th, 2019
They have a right to return MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU

Or are we finally going to see an end to the Rohingya crisis?

Reportedly, China has told the visiting prime minister of Bangladesh that they were thinking of taking a step to help settle the impasse between Bangladesh and Myanmar over the Rohingya issue. 

China has also said that the imbroglio can only be addressed when the two countries sit for dialogue. 

This demand for “dialogue” has been standard diplomatic rhetoric for a long time. Of course, in most complex situations of life, people often try to find an acceptable middle path through dialogue. 

Though, in such cases, both parties must have the spirit of reconciliation along with a desire to find a possible way forward by making concessions. 

In the Rohingya issue, the reality is that Myanmar has not yet acknowledged that her army had committed a grave crime against humanity with the civilian face of the government either prevaricating on the issue or obfuscating the prejudiced treatment of the Rohingya minority in Rakhine State. 

In such a condition, with the perpetrator unwilling to accept the responsibility of a misdeed, a way forward becomes difficult. 

The repatriation which never happened

The much talked about repatriation which was supposed to have taken place at the end of last year never happened because Myanmar did not open up Rakhine for inspection. 

That terrified people did not want to go back to a place about which they are uncertain is nothing unusual. Since it was stated that no Rohingya will be forced to go back, no one came forward to return. 

Instead of showing what awaited the Rohingyas if they came back, Myanmar began its propaganda, stating that the crisis cannot be solved due to an intransigent attitude by Bangladesh. 

The consequence is right before us with more than one million Rohingya living in different camps. It’s not an exaggeration that, as days go by, the large living areas become susceptible to a variety of vices.  

The camps provide basic safety to the displaced along with food and medical help but monitoring and vigilance cannot stop the countless shady and perilous operations that are being hatched and implemented inside these massive zones. 

The coast guard has forestalled several attempts by unscrupulous manpower agents from sending Rohingyas into the face of death on an open sea with the lure of prosperity in Malaysia. 

The Rohingyas have also left the camps secretly to either blend in with the locals or to obtain Bangladeshi passports to go abroad. 

Widows at camps running yaba trade?

As per the statistics of law enforcers, BGB, and others, with the arrival of Rohingyas to Cox’s Bazaar, catching of yaba shipments has seen a marked rise.

Narcotics officials have said that vulnerable people coming from Rakhine are being used as carriers. Reportedly, in Ukhia and Teknaf, there are more than one hundred drug-related cases against Rohingyas with more than two thousand people arrested. 

It’s believed that many widows living in the camps are involved in the trade. As per a Bangla Tribune report, there are 500 drug spots in 34 Rohingya camps. 

Obviously, the drug aspect is a huge concern at a time when the country is grappling to control the tentacles of the yaba monster. The pink methamphetamine based pill, which is easy to conceal and transport, has broken all social barriers to become the drug de jour, eclipsing Phensidyl, heroin, and other narcotics. 

Just for the record, in the first five months of the current year, more than 48 lakh pieces of yaba have been confiscated by law enforcers.  

Why China has to take the issue seriously

The Rohingya problem has many facets but let’s concentrate on two: The drug and crime plus the huge burden on the economy of Bangladesh. 

Unless the Rohingyas go back, yaba will continue to enter Bangladesh. That is a fact we need to accept. 

China has called for “dialogue” though the stage for talks is long over. To be blunt, bilateral dialogue won’t work unless there is a powerful mediator, a third party, which will be present to ensure that a meet between two countries ends in something concrete and not just ambiguous promises. 

China can take the role because, with large Chinese investments in Myanmar, the Burmese authority plus the military will pay attention and not treat talks with Bangladesh as just a formality. 

The question is whether China will step forward and do the necessary. Making promises during a state-level visit is part of courtesy and, in many cases, pledges made during such trips turn out to be mere rhetoric. 

Myanmar need to be told by a bigger nation that she has to sit with Bangladesh and find a middle path and not vacillate. 

Unfortunately, no major country has exerted any pressure on Burma so far. Leading countries have condemned the treatment of the Rohingyas but have astutely refrained from directly underlining the failure of Aung San Suu Kyi. 

It often seems that Western governments are unwilling to condemn someone they extolled because if they do, it will show that they had actually lionized the wrong person. 

In simple terms, they failed to detect the ruthless politician in Suu Kyi and only saw a democracy crusader. Denouncing her would be similar to acknowledging that the West misread Suu Kyi. 

Interestingly, top ministers of countries which are providing help to the displaced people in the forms of food and other supplies can never answer as to why sanctions cannot be imposed on Burma to force the country to discard its shenanigans for transparent talks. 

The need for “dialogue” to solve the crisis is actually a vacuous line; it does not carry any meaning or significance. 

However, we want to believe that China’s desire to help is not just a polite comment, made during a state-level visit to avoid the Rohingya issue from creating uneasiness and embarrassment. 

Political and trade imperatives aside, if China does take a firm step, she will be lauded for trying to help in the crisis involving the most neglected minority in the world. 

Sometimes, the label “compassionate and benevolent” can also work wonders -- if not for humanity then at least for a better image globally.

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