During a discussion meeting between a foreign Ambassador from a very powerful country and the Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh, the Ambassador asked Bangladesh’s Foreign Secretary ‘what is the future plan of the government regarding the permanent solution to the Rohingya crisis.’ The concerned ambassador met the Foreign Secretary ahead of a visit of a delegation from his country to observe the latest situation of the Rohingya crisis. After the passage of two years into the current Rohingya crisis and the continuous genocide in the Arakan state of Myanmar about which the world is aware of, such a query and the visit of a delegation to observe the latest situation of the Rohingya crisis may seem a bit farcical. The bottom line is that the nationals of Myanmar, whom the world knows as Rohingya (mostly Muslims), who lived in the Arakan state (original name Rakhine state before the Myanmar’s military junta renamed it) of Myanmar since the 7th century before they were forced to flee their ancestral home and seek refuge inside Bangladesh due to the state sponsored ethnic cleansing drive causing great concern for the people and government of Bangladesh, must go back with dignity and with equal rights enjoyed by other citizens of Myanmar. Bangladesh has been struggling with the burden of about 1.3 million Rohingyas as of now. The official estimated number when the new Rohingya influx began in 2017 was one million. Over the years they have multiplied geometrically and there are many families in the Rohingya camps in Teknaf, Ukiah and Cox’s Bazar with at least eighteen to twenty children per couple, many born in the camps.During the last two years of the crisis many heads of state and government, international bodies like the UN have shared their concern, paid lip service that they will do their best to force the government of Myanmar to take back their citizens but the military junta and the de facto head of the state and head of the government of Myanmar, the Nobel laureate Aung Sun Suu Kyi, remained defiant and no solution was in sight. There were two attempts to repatriate the Rohingyas which failed for different reasons; one being that the Rohingyas could not be convinced that they will be returning with the full rights as citizens of Myanmar which they enjoyed earlier.
The plight of the Rohingyas is similar to the Jews in Hitler’s Germany. Hitler wanted a Germany of blue blooded Aryan race. He took upon himself cleansing each and everyone whom he thought is not qualified to be called with a pedigree of Aryan blood was qualified to be a victim of ethnic cleansing. That not only included Jews but also Romanian gypsies and the physically handicapped. Later on Hitler wanted the annihilation of all the Polish people. According to historical sources, the German police and military expelled 116,000 Polish men and women in just a few months after 1941 following Hitler’s occupation of Poland. By 1943 about 297 villages were depopulated, people taken to detention camps or killed. The Myanmar army is doing the same thing and unfortunately the lady who was endowed with the Nobel Prize for peace, Aung Sun Suu Kyi, is presiding over this brutal genocide, forcible eviction, rape and arson while the world watches and Bangladesh bears all the burden of housing and feeding all the fleeing Rohingyas.
Historically, Arakan was never a part of Myanmar or Burma till the Konbaung Dynasty’s conquest of Arakan in 1785. The original ethnic cleansing started following the conquest and as many as thirty five thousand people fled to the neighbouring Chittagong region of British Bengal to escape the persecution. Till the conquest by Konbaung Dynasty, Arakan was an independent kingdom which existed for over 350 years and its border extended up to Chittagong. In 1826 the Burmese ruler ceded Arakan to the British East India Company after their defeat in the first Anglo-Burmese war (1824-1826). Arakan was governed as part of the Bengal Presidency. When the partition of India was in sight Arakanese Muslims appealed to Muslim League leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah to incorporate Arakan into the Dominion of Pakistan. But Jinnah was not interested. Arakan was lost forever as when the Burma was granted independence in 1948 Arakan was given away to Myanmar like a gift which originally did not belong to them. In the forties there were sporadic attempts to secede Arakan from Myanmar by the Arakanese but it never succeeded as they lacked material and moral support and proper leadership.
Till 1962 the people of Arakan lived in peace and enjoyed equal rights as any other citizens of Myanmar. Quite a few Muslims from the province were elected to the parliament and sworn in as ministers in the cabinet. But, with the military takeover, things changed and the declared policy of the military junta was Burma for Burmans, meaning Buddhists, more specifically fundamentalist Theravada Buddhists.
An era of ethnic cleansing began in Myanmar that continues even today. The first batch of Rohingya refugees poured in 1962 in Chittagong immediately after the military takeover. It was a military rule in Burma and military rule in Pakistan. Ayub Khan never objected to the violation of human rights in Myanmar as he himself was doing the same in Pakistan.
In 1971 few hundred refugees from South Chittagong crossed the Naf River and went to Arakan but the Rohingyas were not willing to receive them. Many had to return back home and face the atrocities of the Pakistani military junta. Some Rohingyas even established contacts with Pakistani military in the Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf area and reported about the presence of Bangalis in Arakan and their activities. After liberation again another batch of a few thousand Rohingyas poured into Bangladesh in 1978 and they were sheltered in refugee camps built in Teknaf and Cox’s Bazar. Bangladesh’s military ruler Zia failed to take any step to return them to Arakan.In 1982 the controversial Citizenship Act was enacted in Myanmar, considered a draconian law by any standard and the Rohingyas were declared ‘not citizens’ of Myanmar. Since then the ethnic cleansing programme of Myanmar’s military junta began that continues even today. The Bangladesh government and its people have been generous enough to allow the Rohingya refugees to enter Bangladesh, gave them shelter, security and food. Today the generosity shown by the people and the government is being misinterpreted by the international community and even many human rights organisations. They are very enthusiastic about criticising any action taken by the Bangladesh government to relocate the Rohingyas in Bhashan Chor or to repatriate them to Myanmar but when it comes to putting meaningful pressure on the Myanmar government to take back all their citizens with honour and dignity, they have proved their impotency time and again. To complicate the situation the world community often pledges monetary and material aid for the hapless Rohingyas but what is received is far less than what is pledged.
In the beginning the Rohingyas were seen only as victims of a pre-planned genocide and the people of Bangladesh and the government reached out to them on humanitarian grounds. Today the same Rohingyas have become the cause of multidimensional problem for Bangladesh, especially for the people of south Chittagong and the government. They have destroyed the entire ecology of the area where they have been housed, and have caused an environmental damage of approximately 1,999 crore taka. Practically all Rohingya camps have become dens and hubs of criminal activities and criminals. Human trafficking, drug peddling and arms smuggling have become very common in the camps. Many NGOs have been accused of being willing partners in crime with the Rohingyas. Recently they even audaciously challenged the authority of the government of Bangladesh. What is more alarming is that some NGOs were identified that were directly involved in indoctrinating young Rohingyas with religious fundamentalism in the name of teaching and preaching Islamic ideology and Arabic. This is happening in the Rohingya established madrasas (religious schools).
Everyone, including the international organisations like the UN, should realise the indifference shown towards the Rohingya issue. One day, not in too distant future, the Rohingyas may be a cause of security threat not only for Bangladesh but also for other countries in the region and beyond. So let everyone realise that the only future plan for the Rohingya issue is that they must go back to where they came from. The world cannot afford to see the emergence of another Hitler Germany in the region. It may be too costly for everyone. A stitch in time will save nine.
The writer is an analyst and a commentator. Currently he teaches at ULAB.