What would it take to successfully repatriate the Rohingya?
After feverish speculation, August 22 was set as the date for the start of the Rohingya repatriation. The jetty near the camps was fixed and for over one week prior to the set date, the air around Teknaf was rife with debate over the possible return.
However, the reality is that not a single Rohingya turned out to go back to Rakhine. And we are not surprised either, because simple logic states: If one is uncertain of a place where one faced tyranny, then going back to that place without assurance is tantamount to taking a dive into a snake pit.
Interestingly, this time, there were several members from the Chinese embassy present at the scene to get an idea about the repatriation process. But since no one came forward, it must have dawned on the Chinese diplomats that a grave sense of terror persists in the minds of the Rohingya. At this point, the issue is, once again, at an impasse.
Myanmar should feel the need for repatriation
When the Rohingya are asked if they want to go back, the answer usually is an emphatic “no” -- a sentiment echoed by a Rohingya leader at the White House recently. Former Bangladesh ambassador to China, Munshi Foyez Ahmed, said recently: “There needs to be a thorough analysis as to why they are unwilling to go back.”
It is possible that the Rohingya cannot keep any trust on the pledges made by Myanmar, and therefore, it is up to Myanmar to instill a sense of confidence among the Rohingya that the promises made to them will be fulfilled, remarked the diplomat.
But how genuine is Myanmar’s desire to take them back? It often appears that, faced with the prospect of a scarred reputation, the Burmese authority reluctantly agrees to go with the repatriation plan although there is hardly any effort on their part to make the return appealing. To make Rakhine safe, it has to be opened to all observers andthey need to be present when the Rohingya come back.
After a crackdown on the people -- which an independent UN body has called a genocide -- it is the duty of Myanmar to lay out an elaborate plan before the world so there aren’t any shady areas. At this moment, the repatriation process is blighted by too many ambiguities. The people do not know if they will be granted citizenship or not and if the land taken from them will be returned.
In addition, there is the matter of radical and intolerant face of Buddhism. While August 22 was set for repatriation, there wasn’t any declaration from the Myanmar civil administration on the matter, which makes the issue even more confusing. Perhaps the thought that went through the minds of many Rohingyas was: Are we welcome or not?
Well, it does not take a sociologist to see that whatever consent Myanmar has given for repatriation was out of a desire to have its name be lifted from the list of nations that torment its own people. Aung San Suu Kyi and her façade of the travesty called a civilian government did not make any statement either on the Rohingya repatriation or the compounding fears among the people living in camps in Teknaf.
Crimes soar at camps
As per a Bangla Tribune report, due to a few Rohingya harbouring extremist views, crimes are soaring at camps in Ukhia and Teknaf. As a result, murder, robbery, rape, assault of police, human trafficking, and abductions are taking place. To control crime, the police has lodged 471 cases in the last two years, accusing 1,088 individuals.
Law enforcers say that crime rates have soared in 34 Rohingya camps. After dark, crimes are being committed in the camps. Kutupalong camp leader Mohamamd Yunus Arman, says: “It’s unfortunate to face such anarchy in another country.”
Instead of focusing on returning to their homeland, a section of the Rohingya are carrying out terrorist activities, apparently.
The Rohingya leader of Modhurchora camp in Kutupalong, Dil Mohammad, added: “The unregistered Rohingya face discrimination and the newly arrived ones often face attacks after dark.” Convener of the Rohingya repatriation committee and Ukhia upazila AL president, Hamidul Huq Chowdhury, observes: “Due to crimes of the Rohingya, the people of the whole district are in a panic. The environment is facing threats.” Meanwhile, additional police super of Cox’s Bazaar, Md Iqbal Hossain, expressed concerns, saying: “Internal feud has risen among the Rohingya; due to contentions over clan, leadership, family issues, murders have been committed.”
India’s complete inactivity on the matter
One is perplexed as to why India is so silent on the issue. They have hardly made any direct comment on the Burmese army’s crackdown which forced the Rohingya to flee.
At the moment, there are no observations on the matter. Obviously, for valid reasons, the plight of the Rohingya, deprived of rights in Myanmar, can be compared to the current conditions of the people in the Indian part of Kashmir, where residents have openly opposed the scrapping of the special status.
India’s role as a regional powerhouse is to ensure that peace prevails -- and her role in the Rohingya issue is utterly baffling. India and Bangladesh are currently enjoying an entente cordiale but this bonhomie needs to be supported by plausible action. Since the Rohingya imbroglio broke out, the need for international pressure has been mentioned countless times, though, in reality, no tangible pressure has been put on Burma as of yet.
What is more disquieting is that there is a tendency in the region to kick the issue into the long grass and let Bangladesh handle the matter.
China has to act
Since Chinese diplomats were at the repatriation site, they have seen first-hand the unwillingness of the Rohingya to go back. So, this should prompt them to ask Myanmar to come forward and do the essential to sow a feeling of confidence among the Rohingya.
The problem is, Myanmar is never seen to directly talk about the matter. The atrocities committed in late August 2017 were never acknowledged. For repatriation to actually happen, there needs to be an unequivocal statement from Aung San Suu Kyi that the Rohingya are welcome and Burma will try to ensure proper reintegration.
If China’s promises to mediate are something more than mere platitudes, then the regional powerhouse will create a platform where Burmese authority will spell out clearly the intention to take back the Rohingya.
Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.