The humanitarian crisis caused by the Myanmar authority’s ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas has reached to extreme proportion. The Rohingya are turned into a stateless predominantly Muslim minority by the refusal of Myanmar to accept them as citizens living in parts of a hostile and overwhelmingly Buddhist country. The number of refugees is ever increasing. A newspaper published on 29 September has reported that the number of refugees has crossed half a million since the beginning of the crisis from August 24. Since then, there have been reports of Myanmar military helicopters firing on civilians, the executions of women and children, and the burning of entire villages. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) called the situation a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.“ Since the 1970s Rohingya refugees have been coming to Bangladesh. Most of them are located in Teknaf and Cox’s Bazar region, a coastal area primarily dependent on tourism. Their number is also close to 500,000. It means Bangladesh is now hosting about a million Rohingya refugees. Experience suggests that the Myanmar government, on one pretext or other, has been very reluctant to take back their nationals, the Rohingyas. Whatever the number was allowed to return to Myanmar has always been much little than the actual number of refugees. It appears that the solution to the problem and the return of the refugees to their will be uncertain in the near future and their stay in Bangladesh will continue for a longer period of time.
This situation poses a number of challenges for Bangladesh for the short as well as longer terms. Providing basic necessities of life like food, shelter, healthcare would be the utmost priorities in the beginning and also for the rest of the period so long the Rohingyas stay in this country. Their prolonged stay will call for providing them with other services for continuing their lives in this country. One estimate suggests that US$ 200 million is needed to support the current refugees for a period of six month. This estimate was made when their number was 3, 70,000. However, in the meantime, a UN agency has requested for an international fund for about US $250 million for a period of six months. However, with fresh influx of Rohingyas there is all likelihood of overrunning of the estimated costs for supporting them in the short run. It has been the experience of different countries that hosted refugees during many humanitarian crises that international supports especially financial reduces over time if the refugee crises persist. In this kind of situations the ultimate financial burden of humanitarian assistance to the distressed people falls on the host country.
Bangladesh also experienced similar situation with the earlier Roningya refugees that were not taken back or repatriated by the Myanmar government. Here it needs to be mentioned that another half a million Rohingya refugees are already there who came to Bangladesh at different points of time in the last decade or so and were not repatriated by the Myanmar government. Different forms of assistances to Rohingya refugees are already putting pressures on Bangladesh government’s exchequer. The present influxes of another half a million refugee will further worsen the situation in financing various assistances.
Security concern, both internal and external, is another challenge that Bangladesh is already facing and it will intensify further in the future with the new influx of the Rohingya refugees. It has been reported in various news media that many local and international terror organisations are trying to make inroads among the Rohingya refugees. If these organisations become successful in swaying the refugees to subscribe their extremist viewpoints and pouring terror funds then there will be serious terrorist threats to Bangladesh. They may join hands with the already existing terrorist outfits in the country. The other dimension of it is the possibility of committing terrorist acts in the international arena as many of them have already been relocated in different countries of the world. The terror networks could also bring them to their folds.
We all know that the Rohingya refugees are mostly been sheltered in the Teknaf-Cox’s Bazar areas of Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a small county in terms of area. As such, the refugee earmarked areas are adjacent or very close to the settlements of the local citizens. In the past, many untoward incidences occurred between them causing law and order situations in certain localities of the earlier mentioned areas where most of them are sheltered. In the future, with increasing number of the refugees and sheltered close to the native citizens’ settlements there is the likelihood of increasing happening of such incidences and aggravating the local social and cultural harmony among the local citizens and the Rohingya refugees.
The other pertinent issue is the danger of widespread environmental degradation due to the settlement of the refugees in areas close to hills and forest lands. Clearing of forest land, overexploitation of natural resources to support the livelihoods of the refugees will have serious consequences on the local environment. Bangladesh is globally recognised as an environmentally vulnerable country and the mentioned activities will further degrade the environment and make the country more environmentally vulnerable.
The above concerns related with the influx of the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar need serious consideration by Bangladesh and the international community. These are only some of the most genuine challenges for Bangladesh caused due to Rohingya refugee crisis. Bangladesh cannot alone face these challenges. The International community needs to come forward to solve this problem permanently by putting pressure on the Myanmar government to take back its citizens by creating a safe and secured environment in its own country. Otherwise, it will be an uphill task for Bangladesh to shelter the Rohingya refugees for an uncertain period of time given its limited resources. These pressures might also derail Bangladesh’s development initiatives aimed for the betterment of its own citizens.
The writer is Professor and Chairman,
Department of Public Administration,
University of Dhaka and Member, National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh. The different sources of information are
acknowledged with gratitude.