The influx of the forcefully displaced Rohinyas remains to be an unending process and their numbers are swelling every day since the outbreak of the violence leading to ethnic cleansing in the Rakhaine state of Myanmar. The Myanmar state machineries especially the military has unleashed a reign of terror that include murder, rape and arson that has forced the rohingyas to leave their country.
Since the beginning of the atrocities culminating into a humanitarian crisis more than 600,000 Rohingyas has so far crossed over to Bangladesh. They are being sheltered in the Teknaf-Cox’s Bazar region of the country. Here it needs to be noted that the Rohingyas who have been coming to Bangladesh for the last two decades are also being sheltered in the same region. Various estimates suggest that their number is also about another 500,000. It means about a million forcefully displaced Rohingyas are now sheltered in the said region which is about double the number of the host population living in the Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf region.
Bangladesh had no choice but to respond to the humanitarian call and provide shelter to the forcefully displaced Rohingyas from Myanmar. In earlier times, she also did the same and still bearing the burden of the sheltered people. However, this time the situation is entirely different. The number of displace persons is huge and they came within a very short period of time. The phenomenon has started to take its toll on a number of areas of the live and livelihood of the host country and its population especially living in the Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf region. Interesting fact is that the local population has become minority (about half) against the temporarily sheltered Rohingya displaced people. This is why the day-to-day life of the local community is under threat because of this profound change in the demographic character of the region. There has been price hike of essential goods and services as an acute imbalance has been created because of demand and supply gap. The fact is that the Rohingayas have also joined the demand side for goods and services. As a result, the cost of living for the host community has increased substantially. This is breeding silent resentment among the local Bangladesh community.
The services, for example, the health sector is under severe stress due to the sheer number of patients and ailments it has to treat. It needs to be pointed out that the service provisions have been created to cater to the needs of an estimated number of local people. Now within a span two months time the service seekers’ number has doubled if not more. The Government of Bangladesh with the help of its different agencies including the armed forces is providing medical services to the displaced persons. But the question is how long they will be able to provide those in the face of ever increasing number of the displaced Rohingyas. This is already adversely affecting the local service seekers’ interests.
In those areas, many of the school premises are being used for providing different services to the displaced Rohingyas. This is constraining in running the educational institutions smoothly. The students are being deprived of their rights to education. In some places, girls students have become irregular in attending educational institutions as they feel insure because of the presence of such large number of displaced Rohingyas.
There is the possibility of further aggravation of the situation if their number keeps on increasing in the days to come. If this happens then especially girl students’ attendance in schools will decrease further. This will derail the government policy and initiative to put all school going boys and girls of the country in schools and other educational institutions. Under the prevailing circumstances the question of insecurity is also applicable to local inhabitants especially the women and children as anti social activities including drug abuse will be on the rise for obvious reasons. It is reported that in the Rohingya settlement areas the ‘Yaba’ trade has increased and allegations are also made that some of the Rohingya displaced persons are actively involved in such trades. Increase in human trafficking is another danger that has become a concern too.
Environmental degradation and loss of forest land are also being caused due to construction of displaced Rohingya settlements. Forests are disappearing fast due to indiscriminate clearing of forests. This and other facts mentioned earlier are causing environmental degradation in Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf region which is a fast developing premier tourist destination of the country. It is perceived that all these will negatively impact the local tourist industry and thwart its further growth and development.
In the face of the above realities, a comprehensive crisis response plan for the host communities needs to be developed without delay. This response plan must address issues like price hike causing cost of living more expensive, security issues especially constraining educational institutions smooth functioning which in turn increasing fall in attendance especially of girl students. Life and livelihood guarantee provisions are also to be incorporated in the said response plan. Finally, some form of compensation package for the local host community should also be there in the response plan. This package to some extent may provide some relief in the face of price hike and increasing cost of living of the local community.
However, it must be remembered here that these are purely temporary measures to address an emergency humanitarian crisis situation. All out efforts should be taken to mount pressure on the Myanmar Government to take back their forcefully displaced citizens without any further delay.
Bangladesh must also impress upon the international community about the gravity of the situation and its far reaching consequences on Bangladesh society, economy and particularly regional security.
(The different sources of information are acknowledged with gratitude)
The writer is the Professor and Chairman, Department of Public Administration, University of Dhaka And Member, National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh