The Rohingya refugee situation has been steadily deteriorating, seemingly with no end in sight. Concern mounts as other crises grip different parts of the world, diverting international attention away from these displaced persons. ‘What next?’ is the question that looms large.
It is with this predicament in focus, that the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies selected ‘Rohingya Refugee Crisis: Restrategising the Future’ as the topic for this month’s BIPSS Lecture Club. The event took place on Tuesday evening at a hotel in the capital city. And speaking on the issue was Barrister Manzoor Hasan OBE, executive director, Centre for Peace and Justice, BRAC University.
Introducing the topic, Maj Gen ANM Muniruzzaman (retd), president of BIPSS, said that the Rohingya crisis is a crisis that Bangladesh has faced for decades. In the latest influx, around 800,000 Rohingyas fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh in 2017, with another 250,000 Rohingya children being born over the past five years.
International support is dwindling, he said, and this was adding an additional burden to the Bangladesh government. ”We need to think out of the box for pragmatic solutions,” the BIPSS president said.
“Bangladesh’s experience and hospitality regarding the Rohingyas has been outstanding,” said lawyer Manzoor Hasan, “but the time has come to restrategise and come up with new ideas, to look ahead.”
He pointed out that there were 103 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide and this number was growing. Interestingly, 74 per cent of these people were being hosted by low and middle-income countries. And there were more than one million presently living in refugee camps in Bangladesh.
“There are competing issues out there,” he said, pointing to the Ukraine crisis, natural calamities and more. “This crisis is becoming a forgotten crisis,” he cautioned, also adding that the violence in the camps was growing, the youth were frustrated, women and girls were being trafficked, and many Rohingyas died in risky attempts to go to other countries by boat.
Bangladesh would not send the refugees back while the conditions in Rakhine remained as they are now, Manzoor Hasan said.
“ASEAN is playing an ineffective role,” he said, “and the UN seems to be hiding behind the ASEAN position. In fact, some say that the UN is being taken for a ride by the military junta.”
It is time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, he said. Reality in Myanmar is changing. The coup two years ago has complicated matters further.
Manzoor Hasan referred to the Kofi Annan recommendations, saying that these could be taken up in the present context. Among other points, the recommendations suggested investing heavily in infrastructure, ensuring the local community’s participation in development decisions, resolving the Rohingya citizenship issue and ensuring the free movement of Rohingyas in Rakhine. The recommendations are still very valid, he said, adding that there was a high level of consensus on these recommendations.
Having spoken on the issue in the global context, the speaker went on to the regional context. “What we see in Rakhine, and in Myanmar as a whole, is not static. The geopolitical landscape is fluid, and changing. Emphasis should be on diplomacy, dialogue,” he said, highlighting the importance of Myanmar to both China and India. Referring to BIMSTEC and ASEAN, he said, "We should explore more forums."
Coming down to Rakhine specifically, he said there were a lot of changes in Rakhine compared to two years ago. Arakan Army has become a critical actor now, he also pointed out.
As for the role of Bangladesh, it had played a critical role and had been generous. “But it has reached a point when we need to look at our own legal policy framework. This means not just the legal status of the refugees, but addressing the issues of their education, skills, livelihood development in a sustainable manner.”
He talked about giving the Rohingya refugees the right to work, conditional to a large injection of funds from the donors to give the initiative a jumpstart. He also added that it was imperative to take the wishes of the host community into consideration too. Unless the Rohingyas were given this chance at education, skill, and livelihood development, there would be a lost generation, two lost generations, in fact.
He said the role of the media was imperative too. While there was constructive and realistic coverage of the crisis by the mainstream media, there was also toxic, dehumanising treatment by certain sections of the media.
“There is no single bullet to solve the Rohingya crisis,” concluded Barrister Manzoor Hasan, “the matter must be faced from global, regional and national perspectives.”
The lecture was followed by a lively and interactive question-and-answer session. The event was attended by foreign diplomats, retired civil and military officials, retired diplomats, academics, journalists and more.