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OP-ED: Where is the Rohingya crisis headed?

  • Published at 12:30 am November 18th, 2020
Bird's eye view of Bhashan Char Courtesy

Bhashan Char is an improvement, but it is not a long-term solution to the Rohingya crisis

The Rohingya issue has become a hefty crisis for this region, especially for Bangladesh. The situation of the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar deteriorated early last month, when several rival groups were locked in clashes over establishing supremacy in the region. The media reported that nine people, including two Bangladeshis, were killed in several fights. A few international NGOs asked their staff not to go inside the camps for a certain period of time.

Apart from that, some NGOs have been advising the government to ensure structural development in the camps so that the people could lead hazard-free lives. It is true that, since their arrival, Rohingya refugees have grappled with challenges -- floods, landslides, severe storms. The temporary shelter around Cox’s Bazar, within a short time, has become the world’s largest refugee camp.

Appraising the situation, the Bangladesh government decided to relocate nearly 100,000 of the over 1,000,000 Rohingya to Bhashan Char, an island under the district of Noakhali. According to this decision, a team of 40 Rohingya visited Bhashan Char island on September 5 to witness the facilities. During the visit, the team talked with some 300 Rohingya who were rescued from the sea early this year and were sheltered there. The team members at that time had expressed their satisfaction about the facilities to some journalists, but after coming back to Cox’s Bazar, they changed their stance.

Soon after, Amnesty International, in a brief, expressed their concerns over the relocation of the Rohingya to Bhashan Char. It said that Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh must be given the right to participate in taking decisions which affect their lives and speak for themselves. Some other NGOs also stood against the relocation. When the government came to know about the stance of the Rohingya, it started looking for the reason. The media reported that the government treated it as a “conspiracy” of a particular section. 

Several officials from Bangladesh’s Foreign and Home Ministries confirmed that some NGOs, which had been working in the camps, persuaded people not to accept the proposal. When the government officials blamed these NGOs for creating barriers, I felt the need to talk with some NGO officials.

Three to four NGO officials admitted they and their higher authorities had been trying to influence the Rohingya to oppose the proposal. They highlighted different problems, including unemployment and flooding, for rejecting the proposal, and told the Rohingya that they would face these difficulties if they were relocated to Bhashan Char. The officials admitted that they were afraid to work inside the camps. They also said the environment of the camps should be changed. But they did not know if that was possible at this stage.

First and foremost, to find a solution, the government should arrange a trip for the UN and other NGO officials to Bhashan Char so that they can observe the physical development of the place. A 13km-long flood protection embankment, 1,440 well-designed houses, solar-powered systems, biogas and fuel for cooking, waste management systems, cyclone centres, mobile phone networks, and other facilities would convince international bodies of the benefits of the relocation. 

Apart from that, when the international bodies find various means of livelihoods -- such as fishing, poultry farming, sheep and cattle rearing, cultivation on the island -- they will recognize their faults and accept the relocation.

Secondly, the local administration of Cox’s Bazar, with the help of different socially influential people, should start campaigning among the Rohingya community so that they get the confidence to agree with the relocation proposal.

However, sending 100,000 Rohingya to Bhashan Char is not an absolute solution to the crisis. To reach a reasonable conclusion, powerful countries and international organizations which work with the Rohingya should put pressure on the Myanmar government so that the country starts repatriation. It is very unfortunate that most countries and international organizations have put the pressure on Bangladesh rather than on Myanmar.

It upsets us to notice that instead of creating collective pressure upon Naypyidaw, many influential countries are reluctant and some are even investing there. The international community should realize that even though Bangladesh does not have a sound economic structure required to help a large number of refugees for a long time, the country is doing its best.

At this stage, Bangladesh deserves more funds and collective pressure on Myanmar to put an end to this crisis forever. Otherwise, it will turn into another big regional crisis.

Prabir Barua Chowdhury is a journalist and works on geopolitics. He can be reached at [email protected]

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