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Uncertain Future of Rohingya Refugees

Rayhan Ahmed Topader:

At report by Unicef said that Rohingya children face a perilous health threat as they are living in overcrowded and unsanitary makeshift settlements.As a result,12,000 Rohingya children living in the camp are putting them into danger of cholera and malnutrition every week. According to the agreement, the entire repatriation process will take 2 years. In this long period, it is really a matter of concern for these hundreds of thousands of people especially the children who are living in a camp simply made with tarpaulin and bamboo The rain, cold and storm will make their life miserable and cause health hazards. Will the government have any plan to house the refugees or keep them in confinement in camps or should they be allowed to disperse in the country?All of discussions, criticisms the Bangladesh government and Myanmar have signed the text of the Physical Arrange ment last week stipulating that the Rohingya return would be completed preferably within two years from the commencement of repatriation.In the meeting it is decided that Bangladesh will send back 1,500 Rohingyas every week excluding Saturday and Sunday. For this Bangladesh will establish five transit camps from which returnees would be received initially in two reception centers on the Myanmar side.It is really a praiseworthy initiative that both the countries have taken that the Rohingyas will get back to their own state.But in reality how far it will be feasible? The people have seen the utmost brutality that they could ever forget in their life.Myanmar’s brutal military crack down on its Rohingya minority shocked the world.

As the refugees enter 2018 with their future still in limbo, has the international community finally decided on what actions to take?The number of Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar to Bangla desh since August 2017 is edging towards 650,000 out of a pre-crisis Rohingya popula tion in Myanmar of just over one million.This makes Bangladesh home to the largest Rohingya population in the world at around one million.This is because Bangla desh already housed 3400,000 Rohingya refugees from previous crises, like the 2012-13 clashes, and the 2015 South East Asian Migration Crisis. One million is double the number who have made Saudi Arabia their home, and more than double the 400,000 who have yet to flee Myanmar. Yet Bangladesh does not seem thrilled about its new status as the de facto home country of the Rohingya. In November, it signed an agreement with the civilian govern ment in Myanmar on returning Rohingya refugees to the country where the autono mous Army is still carrying out clearing operations against their kin. Thankfully, return is supposed to be voluntary.And Myanmar imposes restric tions on who has the right to return such that the overwhelming majority of the Rohingya in Bangladesh will be disqualifi ed. In other words, this agreement will not have any significant impact on the fate of the Rohingya refugee population in Bangladesh The agreement was largely an empty political gesture for the civilian government of Myanmar to show that they are bowing to international pressure on the Rohingya issue. And while the civilian government is bearing the brunt of international criticism, the Army is continuing its ethnic cleansing unabated

Could these more than a million people forget all the atrocities that had gone through and fled from their precursor’s land?

Already, Rohingya Organizations from across the world have shown their concern about the security of these people and demanded guarantee of their life and proper security and peaceful coexistence with rest of the population in Myanmar before they are repatriated.In a joint statement they said that there is no change of attitude of the Myanmar govern ment and its military towards Rohingya; still they identify Rohingyas as recent Bengali interlopers from Bangladesh what express their doubt in this initiative.It is true that Refugees are homesick, but they are unwilling to return if not congenial atmosphere has not been created for these huge number of people by Myanmar Government considering their safety, dignity and honor.There is also a matter of concern that whether the refugees could be settled in their homes. It would be really worst for those simply moving the refugees from camps in Bangladesh to dislodgement sites in Myanmar as the regime has already claimed state-ownership of Rohingyas’ land within the affected region of Northern Rakhine state.However, in the meeting Bangladesh has cleared its position that Rohingya repatriation will be voluntary, dignified and safe and finalized the form for verification. Modalities for repatriation of orphans and children born out of unwarran ted incidents have been incorporated in the deal. The state minister for foreign affairs said that Bangladesh government will not risk its reputation by forcing Rohingyas back to Myanmar. From the beginning of the discussion with Myanmar and signing of the first deal on Nov 23.Bangladesh government emphasized on voluntary, dignified and safe manner of the Rohingya repatriation.For a single blink, we believe his words and think what the situation can be if the Rohingyas do not want to go back to Myanmar as they are victim of ethnic cleansing or genocide claimed by US and United Nations and others Rights body.

Can Bangladesh government give these huge numbers of people shelter, food, medicare, education and safety for children for long run? Already, many reports published in media reported their vulnera ble condition regarding shelter, safety, health and water. On the other hand, the camps were made in the reserved area of the forest land where the wild elephant moves. Already 7 Rohingya including 3 children and 1 woman have been trampled to death by an elephant in the camp since October 2017 to till now.Therefore, we need to think of some solutions to deal with this additional population in our country for this people.This is indeed a highly complex problem with humanitarian, political, law and order,security, development and environmental concerns, all of which need to be considered.A levelheaded assess ment can tell that whether we will be successful to send these huge numbers of people back to Myanmar in this hopeful diplomatic scenario. For this the most important thing is UNHCR’s involvement in repatriation process in Myanmar. But, quite tactfully Myanmar government is not allowing any international organizations to work in Rakhine state.Besides, UNHCR also expressed their willingness to work with Bangladesh and Myanmar to ensure international standards in repatriation.But, it is still not sure whether they can be a part of this process. However, the State Minister of Foreign Affairs in Bangladesh said that they will involve UNHCR based on the ground reality when they are needed after analyzing the situation.For safe repartition it is must to make the Rohingya people feel safe and they are given all the facilities in their country where UNHCR and other Rights organizations can contribute. If their trust is not hold back before the repatria tion starts, the entire talks will be hazy and a matter of show off where the Myanmar seems to be more benefited by reducing international pressure in this issue.

Now Bangladesh is slowly coming to the realisation that it has gained a new permanent population of one million refugees and rising. But they are still resisting this reality. This is why Bangladesh is refusing to grant the latest wave of refugees full refugee status under international law, and is signing agree ments with the government of Myanmar about returning some of them. It is also why the government is trying their best to isolate the refugee population from the rest of Bangladeshi society, restricting travel and commercial ties.They retain the hope that the Rohingya problem will go away even though it is not obvious to anyone why or how this will happen.The tragedy of all this is that the Rohingya have made so little progress, and are left with so little hope. They went from being a hated, marginalised alien people in Myanmar to being a marginalised alien people in Bangladesh. To be sure, neither the political leadership nor nationalist extremists in Bangladesh are actively trying to kill them or run them out of the country at least not yet. But their situation in Bangladesh in 2017 is much more precarious than it was in Myanmar in 2010. And in a country that has its own problems with political instability and violence, the Rohingya have no reason to be confident for the future.And yet, there is no going back. Much of the property, livestock and land left behind in Myanmar by the refugees has already been seized and redistributed to Buddhist Rakhine locals. And Aung San Suu Kyi’s government proposes to house many returning refugees in camps like the internally displaced peoples (IDP) camps set up in the aftermath of the 2012-13 waves of violence.

The notion that the Rohingya might want to return to live in camps guarded by the very security forces which drove them out of their villages with extra-judicial killings and mass rape is lunacy.There is only one good possible outcome to the ongoing situation. Bangladesh must embrace the Rohingya refugees and try to integrate them in their own society. That is the only way these people can have a safe future. It is the responsibility of the international community to persuade Bangladesh of this, and to offer all the support financial and logistical Bangladesh needs in order to accomplish it.How we deal with Myanmar in the aftermath of this ethnic cleansing is a separate issue and one we can get to in due time. The suffering of the Rohingya is the more pressing issue.

Writer and Columnist