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From empathy to disregard

  • Published at 04:52 pm August 30th, 2019
A burden on the country?
A burden on the country? / MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU

Should Bangladesh continue to shelter the Rohingya?

The table has turned for the Rohingya refugees who fled their own country in the face of brutal atrocities and killings by the Myanmar security forces. In 2017, almost everyone in Bangladesh extended their empathetic shoulder to them. The prime minister convinced her people to help those who were being murdered in their own land. 

That was, indeed, a great display of kindness. What Bangladesh did was truly humanitarian. There’s hardly any other country that would have shown what Bangladesh did. Almost all Bangladeshis accepted them, sheltered them, fed them, and called for international help in looking after them as well as in repatriating them.

In two years’ time, Bangladeshis’ empathy for the Rohingya has faded away and now, the entire nation considers them as a burden and wants a permanent solution to this refugee crisis. Bangladeshis also think that the Rohingya are destroying the environment they live in and engaging in various kinds of crimes. The media of Bangladesh that wrote about them sympathetically are now looking at them quite critically, and raising various questions on the intentions of the Myanmar government, as well as the ability of the international community to actually help them. 

Now, since the latest exodus in 2017, according to the UNHCR, some 91,000 children have been born inside the camps. The concerns of feeding so many of them are being raised now. The law and order of that area is in doldrums.

A Jubo League leader at a refugee camp has been murdered; he was reportedly shot dead by a Rohingya criminal gang. Reports were published in the media that a politician hired the Rohingya gang members to eliminate his political rival. This shows how the criminals among the Rohingya are now getting involved in local politics.

Surprisingly organized

What surprised me was that recently, thousands of Rohingya refugees gathered at a rally at Kutupalong of Cox’s Bazar and demanded justice. Their leaders urged the international community to take steps to ensure justice against the genocide carried out against the Rohingya community in Myanmar. The rally was held on the completion of two years of the crisis. 

Since they are native residents of Arakan, they demanded their “native” status. They demanded a citizenship card for each of them. They demanded their land back when repatriated. For their physical safety, they demanded to deploy UN peace-keepers. They demanded the creation of an international criminal court which, according to them, would try the genocides that have been committed against them.

The reason it was surprising was because the rally seemed very organized. Many questions may arise regarding the rally. Who helped them organize the rally? In a country where organizing a political rally is difficult, how could the Rohingya arrange such a big rally wearing thousands of t-shirts? 

Who provided them with those t-shirts? Is this our own strategy for making the world hear their voice? Is this someone else helping them?

The rally proved that they are no longer a hapless lot of refugees; they have become quite organized and this looks to have various far-reaching consequences. The government in Dhaka may think it through and act accordingly. 

The role of the international community

Many analysts have suggested that Bangladesh needs to get engaged with China, Japan, and India in a much more creative way to find a sustainable solution to the problem. Myanmar thinks that these countries are its close friends, and they won’t bother to say anything against Myanmar for their own business interests. Myanmar itself is very business-focused now. The countries that are doing business and investing in Myanmar are important for Bangladesh.

But how successful has Bangladesh been in taking this issue to the international arena? We have received accolades for sheltering and helping the refugees like true humanitarians. However, we didn’t see impactful diplomatic activity on part of Dhaka for securing a logical solution to this problem. The solution lies at the international level. Has Bangladesh been heard in the international media regarding this issue?

However, the Bangladesh foreign minister met a few foreign diplomats on Thursday afternoon to brief them about our position. This is certainly a great sign. A great step. But the foreign minister again blamed Myanmar. He said Yangon had failed to shoulder its responsibility. He also said that Bangladesh has given the logistic support, and now it was the responsibility of Myanmar and the international community to do the rest. 

What he told the diplomats was nothing but wishful thinking for solving the crisis. Bangladesh has to remember that Myanmar has friends whom it can keep close. It will be difficult for those in Dhaka to convince them. The issue has become more complex than just blaming Myanmar. 

Ekram Kabir is a story-teller. His other works can be found on ekramkabir.com.

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