Sunday, May 19, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Between a rock and a hard place

A look into the Rohingya crisis and Bangladesh's current dilemma

Update : 02 Mar 2024, 11:03 AM

Globally speaking, we are currently witnessing a dramatic increase in the arms race among nations and non-state entities. The ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, the Hamas-Israel conflict, the Iran-Pakistan limited war, and the three-year-long intensive war between the Tatmadaw and the revolutionary forces in Myanmar -- all these are making the world more unstable and economically backward.

On February 1, 2021, the Myanmar military launched a coup against the civilian government, declaring the results of the November 2020 general election invalid. Since the Three Brotherhood Alliance (AA, MNDAA, TNLA) launched Operation 1027 on October 27, 2023, it has spread across the half areas of Myanmar, including Shan, Kachin, Kayin, Kayah, Sagaing, Bago, Chin, and Rakhine state.

On November 13, 2023, the Arakan Army (AA) attacked Rakhine. So far, due to conflict in Rakhine, Amnesty International has reported that the violence observed since October 27 had reportedly killed at least 378 civilians, injured 505 more, and displaced more than 660,000 people (as of December 15, 2023), adding to the nearly two million already displaced across the country. 

The conflict in Myanmar's Rakhine state has far-reaching implications, not only for Myanmar but also for its neighboring countries, particularly Bangladesh. As tensions escalate and violence spills over borders, Bangladesh finds itself in a precarious position, grappling with the humanitarian fallout of the crisis while facing limitations in its capacity to provide aid and shelter.

Bangladesh has a history of providing refuge to those fleeing conflict and persecution, exemplified by its response to the Rohingya crisis in 2017 when it opened its borders to around 742,000 Rohingya -- half of them are children -- within a few months. However, the current situation presents a different challenge. While Bangladesh adheres to principles of "non-interference" and "peaceful co-existence," it is wary of being drawn into another wave of displacement, particularly as the clash between the Arakan Army and the Tatmadaw is deemed an internal affair of Myanmar.

The influx of refugees from Myanmar, including the Rohingya and other ethnic communities, poses significant challenges for Bangladesh, which is already burdened with over 1.2 million Rohingya refugees, or, as Bangladesh calls them, Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals (FDMNs). With the escalation of the conflict, there is a looming possibility of additional refugees seeking shelter across the border. Bangladesh's capacity to absorb more refugees is limited, and the government must maintain stringent border control measures to manage the situation effectively.

Moreover, the prolonged civil conflict in Myanmar complicates the prospects of repatriating the refugees. As international attention shifts away from the crisis, the focus on facilitating the safe return of the Rohingya diminishes, leaving them in a state of uncertainty and vulnerability. The resolution of the conflict in Myanmar is crucial not only for restoring stability within the country but also for addressing the plight of Rohingya refugees and enabling their safe return to their homeland.

In light of these challenges, Bangladesh swiftly bolstered its border security measures. Additional border guards were deployed to fortify defenses and prevent any unauthorized entry or influx. While it upholds its humanitarian principles by providing temporary shelter to individuals fleeing conflict, it also recognizes the need to protect its borders and effectively manage the influx of refugees. 

Simultaneously, Bangladesh took diplomatic steps by summoning Myanmar's envoy in Dhaka to seek clarity on their officials' plans and to express concern over the spillage of Myanmar's internal conflict. As a precautionary measure, Bangladesh evacuated its consulate in Sittwe due to security apprehensions while maintaining open channels of communication with the Myanmar government. Through sustained bilateral discussions, Bangladesh facilitated the repatriation of intruders to Myanmar, culminating in the handover at Naval Jetty in Cox's Bazar district on February 15.

However, Bangladesh's stance on providing the temporary stay to Myanmar security forces has sparked debate and raised questions about its broader implications. Critics argue that Bangladesh's acceptance of Myanmar security forces question the consistency of Bangladesh's approach to the crisis and highlight the need for a comprehensive strategy to address the multifaceted challenges posed by the conflict in Myanmar.

In addition to managing the conflict's humanitarian fallout, Bangladesh must also navigate its diplomatic relations with various stakeholders involved in the crisis, including Myanmar. 

The conflict in Myanmar's Rakhine state underscores the complex interplay of internal dynamics and regional implications, with Bangladesh facing the brunt of the humanitarian fallout. As the crisis continues to unfold, Bangladesh must navigate a delicate balance between upholding its humanitarian principles, protecting its borders, and engaging in diplomatic efforts to address the root causes of the conflict.

Only through concerted international cooperation and a comprehensive approach can the plight of Rohingya refugees be addressed and a lasting solution to the crisis in Myanmar be achieved.


Sauid Ahmed Khan is a freelance contributor.

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