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2017 in review: Bangladesh’s trial of compassion

  • Published at 08:33 pm December 30th, 2017
2017 in review: Bangladesh’s trial of compassion
The Rohingya minority has been facing state-sponsored persecution and oppression for decades. Many of them have been forced over the years to leave their homeland in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and flee to Bangladesh to save their lives. There were Rohingya influxes in 1978, 1991-92, 2012 and 2015-16 but none of them was as big as that of 2017 when more than 670,000 Rohingya escaped to Bangladesh between August and December. Many are still believed to be waiting across the border. Bangladesh has already been hosting an estimated 400,000 Rohingya who had arrived earlier. A violent military crackdown targeting the minority in late August is said to have triggered the exodus. The ‘clearance operation’ was launched after Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked 30 police posts and an army base killing 12 members of the security forces on August 24. But a UN investigation found that the army operation began much before the militant attack, possibly in early August. UN investigators said the crackdown was designed to drive out the Rohingya permanently and to prevent them from returning home. The military operation drew global condemnation while the UN dubbed it a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Bangladesh leads by example

The unprecedented influx from late August brought the Rohingya crisis to the fore. Bangladesh opened its border and allowed the refugees in. It has also been providing food and shelter for them. Many doubted whether Bangladesh, a densely populated and developing country, will be able to cope with the crisis. But the people came forward to help with whatever they have. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced: “If necessary, we will eat one meal a day and share another meal with these distressed people. After all, we are human beings and we stand for humanity.” A number of countries and international bodies, including the UN and the European Union, are providing aid for the displaced community. But, key Asian powerhouses China and India, which have huge economic stakes in Myanmar, have been silent over the issue. China has blocked a resolution on the crisis. On the other hand, US President Donald Trump has avoided making any comments on the matter. Sheikh Hasina had a short chat with Trump on September 18. “He just asked how Bangladesh is? I said ‘it’s doing very well, but the only problem that we have is the refugees from Myanmar,” she told Reuters in an interview. “But he didn’t make any comment about refugees.” Hasina said Trump’s stance on refugees was clear, so it was not worth asking him for help with the Rohingya Muslim refugees. “Bangladesh is not a rich country ... but if we can feed 160 million people, another 500 or 700,000 people, we can do it,” she said. However, a number of delegations from the US visited Bangladesh and Myanmar to sort out the crisis and put pressure on Nay Pyi Taw to take back its people. The local communities of Cox’s Bazar have been suffering a lot after sheltering the huge number of refugees but Bangladesh is still showing patience and providing aid to the displaced persons.

Repatriation deal signed

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a deal on November 23 for repatriating the Rohingya refugees. A joint workgroup, comprising delegates from the two countries, has already started working. But the Rohingya people say they would go back their country when their government recognises their ethnicity and grants them full citizenship rights. Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya and forces many of them to live in squalid camps in apartheid-like condition. The discrimination against them stretches back decades. The first list for the repatriation of the Rohingya, who recently entered Bangladesh, will contain 100,000 names. The matter will be discussed in detail at the 17th meeting of National Task Force on the Rohingya, presided over by Foreign Secretary M ShahidulHaque. It is scheduled to be held on December 28.
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