On 25 August 2017, the world witnessed the beginning of the forced displacement of more than 750 000 Rohingya people from Rakhine State in Myanmar, fleeing violence and persecution from the Myanmar military. The vast majority of them settled temporarily in the Cox’s Bazar District of Bangladesh, whereas others fled across the region. Six years later, and despite international efforts and calls on Myanmar to create the conditions for their return to their homeland, the crisis is still alive now which is the shame for the international community.
Almost half a century has passed since 2017, but Myanmar has not taken back a single Rohingya to their country. Instead, drama has been created around the return at various times. Despite the sincere efforts of the Bangladesh government, Myanmar has always given an ax blow to the possibility of Rohingya return. On November 23, 2017, a 19-point agreement was signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar due to the concerted efforts of the Bangladesh government and international criticism. In the light of that agreement, Myanmar initially plans to take back 3,450 Rohingyas divided into seven groups.
The deal did not see the light of day on the issue of proof-of-citizenship. In 2019, the Gambia filed a case against the Myanmar government at the International Court of Justice, which is still ongoing. During the hearing of that case, all their lawyers and counsel, including Aung San Suu Kyi, avoided the word ‘Rohingya’ and their citizenship. Surprising but true, in February 2021 there was a political change in Myanmar, but there was no change in opinion.
Rohingya shelter project has been established in Bhasanchar along with Cox’s Bazar to improve the quality of life of Rohingyas on behalf of Bangladesh government. The Bangladesh government is doing everything possible to ensure all the benefits of the Rohingyas. There is little cooperation from Myanmar. There are many questions about the strong role of the international community. On June 18, 2021, the resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on the issue of Myanmar discussed the country’s various problems, especially democratic problems, state of emergency, political prisoners, restoration of democracy, but the issue of Rohingya return did not find a place.
Due to the long process of return of Rohingyas, murders, kidnappings, shootings, torture, drug trafficking and other criminal activities are a regular occurrence in the camps. The activity of several armed groups in the camps is an open secret. According to the information of Cox’s Bazar District Police, there are more than 2500 cases against Rohingyas from 2017 to 2022, with more than 5000 accused. More than 10 terrorist groups including Arsa, RSO, Nabi Hussain Group, Munna Group, Dakat Hakim Group are active. It is said that behind these groups are the invisible hands of various groups in Myanmar. On September 29, 2021, Rohingya leader Muhibullah (Master Muhibullah) was killed at around 8:30 pm. He was vocal about the return of the Rohingyas.
As a result of the efforts of the Bangladesh government, the issue of Rohingya return is gaining importance at the international level. The Rohingya return process is delayed due to international political turmoil and Myanmar’s indifferent attitude. Among the reasons being used as a political tool behind this delay are citizenship, voluntary return and living conditions for the Rohingya in Myanmar.
The 1982 military government barred the Rohingya with the Burma Citizenship Act. Since then, Myanmar has refused to recognize Rohingya as citizens of their country. Myanmar is using Rohingya citizenship as a tool in this return process. The international community has always been silent on the issue of citizenship law. So far, two final attempts to return the Rohingyas have failed due to objections regarding the security of the Rohingyas. In the light of the agreement of November 2017, a joint working committee of the two countries was formed to solve the Rohingya problem in Dhaka on December 19 that year. Then Myanmar started the politics of delay in the name of checking the list. An initial attempt at a comeback in 2018 ended in failure. A Chinese-brokered repatriation initiative failed in 2019, citing concerns that the Rohingya’s environment in Rakhine state is not suitable for return. Negotiations on Rohingya return stalled in February 2021 after Myanmar’s military coup d’état changed the government.
However, the hope is that in 2023, China has taken the initiative to continue trying to return the Rohingyas as a mediator between Bangladesh and Myanmar without international intervention. Diplomatic level discussions are already ongoing. However, again two things are left out in this process. The first is the consent of the Rohingya and the second is the place of return. As part of this process, a group of Rohingya went to Rakhine state for the first time in May this year to see if there is a habitable environment. According to the media, after returning to the camp in Cox’s Bazar, some of them agreed to return to Myanmar after seeing the environment there, while others said they did not agree. There is also a demand for all the family members to go back to the original village together. In the early stages, camps or model villages in northern Maungdu and nearby areas of Myanmar came up for repatriation.
Just as it is not clear whether all Rohingya family members will be taken in together, Myanmar has given birth to new politics over whether Rohingyas will be taken back to their villages or returned to model villages. Again, whether this return process is delayed by the turmoil of international politics has also given rise to renewed discussions. Especially, after the US plans to set up a resettlement program for the Rohingya came to light. However, the international community should forget all political differences and take the humanitarian aspect into serious consideration and help the Rohingya return immediately.
Bangladesh’s top priority is Rohingya repatriation, as more than 1 million Rohingya have been staying here for 6 years. Efforts are underway to repatriate a small group to Rakhine under a pilot project. Bangladesh wants international organizations to help in this. A section of the international community is playing politics with the Rohingyas in the camps in Cox’s Bazar. Due to this, their repatriation process is becoming difficult at times.
The international community and the great powers did little to pressurize the Junta to repatriate the Rohingya. Prior to Junta, the international community also failed to convince the democratic government to repatriate the Rohingya and bring the perpetrators to justice. Bangladesh has tried bilaterally, trilaterally, and multilaterally for the past six years for a viable solution. It has left no stone unturned, yet found nothing. Bangladesh eagerly wants to explore the initiative as something is better than nothing. Owing to bilateral political, economic, connectivity, and economic issues, Bangladesh itself has to solve the problem. While Bangladesh is trying heart and soul to repatriate the Rohingya to their birthplace, the NGOs are not doing enough for the most persecuted community of its time.
Advocacy networks such as UNHCR, HRW, and Amnesty International failed to create effective pressure on Myanmar. Like the NGOs, the Great powers also failed to pressurize Myanmar effectively. The declining fund, deteriorating camp conditions, growing insecurity, and adverse impact of the refugees on the host community have made Bangladesh a desperate host looking for reducing the burden, where its international partners are only performing their formal duties within a set boundary. This crisis is also destabilizing regional security. It is important to note that aid for the Rohingya is decreasing daily. The current Ukraine conflict has the entire world on edge. Although the world community has lost sight of the Rohingya humanitarian issue as a result of the war in Ukraine. Furthermore, it also has the responsibility of international community to provide an external guarantee for Rohingya’s safety upon repatriation.