• Monday, Aug 15, 2022
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The evolution of Bangladesh’s search for a solution to the Rohingya crisis

  • Published at 12:30 am August 28th, 2021
Rohingya refugee
Over one million Rohingyas live in Bangladesh now since fleeing a military crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine state in 2017 Syed Zakir Hossain

Various countries and international organizations including Bangladesh have taken various activities to solve the Rohingya problem

Let us recall at the outset when and how the first Rohingya arrived in our backwoods. In that case we have to go back to the past.

During World War II, a large number of Rohingya Muslims, who were mostly uneducated indentured laborers in the rice plantations of present-day Rakhine, were recruited to fight on the side of the British-led “Fourteenth Army” against the Japanese forces. The Burmese National Army led by Aung San (the father of Aung San Suu Kyi) fought on the side of the Japanese, who promised them independence from British rule.

As a result, Japan invaded Burma in mid-January 1942. Between 1942 and 1945, at least 170,000 to 250,000 people were killed by Japanese troops in Burma and Rakhine. About 50,000 Rohingyas fled to Chittagong in East Bengal to save their lives.

And it is through this entry that the arrival of Rohingyas in our backwoods began.

After Burma gained independence from the British on January 4, 1948, General Ne Win conducted ‘Operation King Dragon’ in 1978 to suppress the Muslim armed Rohingya in Burma's Rakhine State. Thousands of Rohingya were killed in that incident. The result is an extremely chaotic environment.

Meanwhile, on August 15, 1975, a tragic political change took place in Bangladesh. The military junta of Ziaur Rahman seized state power.

As a result, in 1978, the military government led by Ziaur Rahman used religion in politics to increase its popularity in the Muslim world. In other words, since the Rohingya are Muslims only, it was decided to give them asylum in this country. At the same time, in the international arena, they were trying hard to get the legitimacy of their government. Following this, the then military government opened the border of Bangladesh on the proposal of the United Nations.

As a result, two to two and a half lakh Rohingya who fled from Burma then entered Bangladesh. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began assisting the Rohingya as refugees in Cox's Bazar and Ukhia.

Then, in 1991-92, Myanmar's paramilitary forces, such as the Nasaka and other religious communities, attacked the Rohingya again. As a result, during the rule of the then prime minister of Bangladesh Khaleda Zia in 1991-92, about two and a half to three lakh Rohingyas re-entered Bangladesh.

Therefore, excluding the context of World War II, it is understood that different governments have given shelter to the Rohingya in Bangladesh at different times in the past mainly for political reasons.

However, the only exception in that case is the incident of 2017. Because the current prime minister of Bangladesh has given shelter to the persecuted Rohingya who have been fleeing from Myanmar since August 25, 2017 only for humanitarian reasons.

Immediately after the incident, Hon'ble Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina visited the Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar on September 12, 2017 to express her condolences to the oppressed people and assured all possible assistance from the Government of Bangladesh. In addition, the Bangladesh government has provided hundreds of foreign organizations interested in working in the camps to make the situation of the Rohingya humane and tolerable.

By taking this immediate decision, Bangladesh was able to successfully attract the attention of the world. 

Now let's come to the issue of what initiatives Bangladesh has taken in recent years to solve the problem of the Rohingya, which is estimated to be 1.1 million refugees.

Various countries and international organizations including Bangladesh have taken various activities to solve the Rohingya problem. One of them is the Kofi Annan Commission headed by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. On the other hand, another former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon criticized the Myanmar authorities for being lax in repatriating the displaced Rohingya.

In addition, the current UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has expressed deep concern over the ongoing Rohingya crisis. And Yang Hili, the UN special envoy for human rights in Myanmar, noted that all major countries in the world have a responsibility to resolve the Rohingya crisis.

In addition, on December 27, 2019, the United Nations passed a resolution condemning human rights violations against Rohingya Muslims and other religious minorities in Myanmar. The UN General Assembly resolution called on Myanmar to refrain from inciting hatred and hostility against the Rohingya and other minorities.

In the last four years, the international community has continued its activities in various ways to solve the Rohingya problem. Bangladesh has been able to successfully draw the attention of the world community to solve this problem. The displaced Rohingya people who have taken refuge in Bangladesh for more than four years have been receiving humanitarian assistance. The United Nations and the international community have expressed support for Bangladesh in its efforts to ensure the return of Rohingya to their homeland.

Despite all this, the repatriation of the Rohingya to Myanmar has not yet begun.

November 15, 2018 and August 22, 2019 — the start date of the repatriation process was announced twice, but failed. According to the international community, the Rohingya refused to return because of Myanmar's failure to create a repatriation-friendly environment in Rakhine State. The Commissioner for Refugee Relief and Repatriation (RRRC) said they would try to find out how the Rohingya could be repatriated voluntarily. It is important to create a conducive environment for this and that is why the international community must continue to put pressure on Myanmar.

Bangladesh is continuing its efforts to solve this problem with the help of world public opinion. Yet it is true that this effort has been somewhat hampered by the global Covid-19 pandemic. However, it must be acknowledged that this international effort to put pressure on Myanmar over the Rohingya issue is possible only due to the wise decision and foresight of our Hon'ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.


Fazlul Halim Rana is associate professor and chair of the Department of International Relations at Jahangirnagar University.