Rohingyas: A Concern of the Whole World, Not Just Bangladesh Alone

In a time when we as members of a global village are striving for unity, the issue of Migration and Refugees remain unresolved. While we open national borders for economic growth, our conscience slowly shut on the face of the helpless refugees. As the influx of entry increases, the world witness the sufferings of the most persecuted people in the planet, Rohingyas.

Surprisingly, letting refugees in has attracted more controversies than solutions among wealthier nations. It has been marked as a threat to the sovereignty and existence of many states. But when it was least expected, Bangladesh has extended its hands for refugees like no other. According to a statistical report by the UNHCR (as of June 2015), the total population of Refugees in Bangladesh is 232,975. And the number is increasing.

The UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention has many state parties who are better capable of hosting refugees than Bangladesh, an undeveloped country. Bangladesh on the other hand, is not a party to the 1951 Convention or its 1967 protocol. Although being an executive committee member of the UNHCR, It lacks laws that may protect refugees at a national level. Therefore, Bangladesh may not be under any obligation to provide shelter for them. But despite already facing overpopulation and poverty, Bangladesh continues to give entry to the helpless Rohingyas.

Who are Rohingyas?

The Rohingya are an ethnic group closely linked through language, culture, and religion to the dominant Bengali population of Bangladesh. Indeed, the Rohingya language is very close the variety of Bangla spoken in Chittagong, Bangladesh’s major port in the southeast, and until the late 1600s part of the Arakanese Empire in today’s Myanmar. The issue of Rohingya refugees is one of the long standing refugee problems of the world and they are most vulnerable amongst the refugee communities.

History of Rohingya Migration:

The involuntary movement of people across the border is familiar in the history of Bangladesh. In 1784, the Burmese King Bodawpaya conquered and incorporated the Arakan region into his kingdom of Ava in central Burma. As a consequence of the invasion, refugees began to pour into what is today the Cox’s Bazaar area of southern Chittagong. Many of the Rohingya that fled during this period never returned to Burma, but instead settled in the area of Cox’s Bazar and became integrated with the local community.

The mass exodus of Rohingya Muslim started in the late 1970s due to forced labour, land confiscation, religious intolerance, rape, and other forms of persecution by the Myanmar military regime. They were rendered stateless by the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law, which mainly confers the right to a nationality on members of the 135 ‘national races’ listed by the government, amongst which the Rohingyas are not included. This statelessness exposed them to systematic discrimination and human rights violation, which force them to migrate in Bangladesh.

The Rohingya continue to face harassment from the Myanmar Government. Even the leader of Myanmar’s democracy Aung San Suu Kyi remained silent on this issue. In Bangladesh, the Rohingya have been blamed for drug- related and violent crimes.

The Government of Bangladesh plans to relocate thousands of Rohingya refugees who have spent years in camps near the Burmese border to a southern island. There were plans to move them to Hatiya Island in the Bay of Bengal in a plan backed by the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, according to a government official, Amit Kumar Baul. However, it still hasn’t been executed.

The UN refugee agency, which has been helping the refugees in the camps since 1991, said such a scheme would have to be voluntary to succeed. The move would not include the estimated 200,000 unregistered Rohingya asylum seekers who have fled across the border over the past decade and taken refuge in Muslim-majority Bangladesh. Most live close to the two camps but are not entitled to food or other aid.

Refugees are expected to return to their homeland when a war or their fear of being persecuted is over. However in the case of Bangladesh, the problem seems to be never ending. The solution to such problem might be voluntary repatriation to the country of origin and resettlement to another country. The UNHCR suggested voluntary repatriation of Rohingyas to the Government of Bangladesh as the optimal solution.

It is high time that besides enacting a special law, the Government must provide an equitable solution in response to the influx of refugees entering Bangladesh. However some obligations are beyond the scope of law. It is when humanity plays a role. The Rohingyas must be treated more humanely for Bangladeshis were once persecuted from their own land. And as an obligation of customary International law, other states should come forward and work alongside to tackle this situation. Only then can peace be prevailed in this region.