Rohingyas not high on the agenda of ‘champions of democracy’by Shahidul Islam Chowdhury
Professor CR Abrar, executive director of the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit, tells New Age
THE international community has a tendency to keep the Rohingya crisis ‘sidelined’ on the agenda when dealing with the ruling class in Myanmar, says Professor CR Abrar, executive director of the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit, a research, training and policy advocacy institution which is affiliated with the University of Dhaka and came into being in 1996.
The international community has miserably failed to persuade the Burmese authorities on the issue, let alone help improve the situation in the Rakhine state, he said in an exclusive interview with New Age on Tuesday.
Successive governments in Bangladesh have also failed to deal with Myanmar, let alone the Rohingya crisis, and adequately sensitise the regional and international communities towards the resolution of the crisis, Abrar said.
The government of Bangladesh needs to formulate a national policy for incoming migrants and another to deal exclusively with the Rohingya crisis, he added.
On July 11, the president of Myanmar, Thein Sein, asserted that, according to the law, post-independence (1948) ‘immigrants’ are officially considered ‘illegal’ in his country. Is such an assertion rational?
It is an arbitrary decision with retrospective effect, which is contrary to all international practices and laws on citizenship and aimed at stripping legitimate rights of Rohingyas and other communities, and ethnic cleansing of different forms.
These people (Rohingyas) had participated in different elections until 1962 in Burma (now Myanmar) and got elected. They are Burmese nationals.
The foreign minister, Dipu Moni, contested Thein Sein’s statement and said that persons living in two refugee camps and ‘undocumented Myanmar nationals’ living in Bangladesh ‘are Myanmar nationals’. Is she right?
I fully agree with the government on this point. The Burmese government should take back their citizens. I disagree with the government’s position on the distressed Rohingya people who have been fleeing from Burma to Bangladesh. The government has recently been applying force to deport Rohingya people who entered Bangladesh territory after fleeing from atrocities in the Rakhine state. It is unacceptable.
Bangladesh is legally bound and morally responsible to provide shelter to persons fleeing from atrocities in their home country. As a hospitable country, and as a country with high moral standing, it is our responsibility to open doors for them. But unfortunately, we are forcibly stopping their access here. We, by shutting the doors, are not being internationally responsible.
Based on the facts created in Myanmar, Dipu Moni said in the parliament that (most of the) Rohingyas were linked with an Islamist political party. How can she say that without having a study conducted by the government?
The government also says that the Rohingyas are economic migrant. Where is our (official) study based on which we can make such claims?
A country (Bangladesh) that has produced one of the largest migrant communities — economic, political and otherwise — in a century cannot behave like this.
What is your view about the way successive governments in Bangladesh have dealt with the Rohingya crisis?
The Rohingya situation has not turned into a crisis overnight. The Burmese authorities have been persistently creating violent incidents over the years so that Rohingyas permanently leave the country.
The governments in Bangladesh did not take the issue seriously. It has been trying to resolve it by only pushing back (incoming Rohingyas) and naïve diplomatic meetings.
It was happy with the assurance from the Burmese authorities — who have themselves consistently created havoc to life and livelihood of the Rohingyas — that they would take these people back after proper identification.
That’s why they have failed to understand the gravity of the crisis and its consequences, and sensitise the regional and international communities about it.
Now the government is talking about the environmental damage by Rohingyas. My question is: why did the governments not
deal with the undocumented Rohingyas properly? Why did it not arrange shelter and livelihood for them so that they can live a human life?
Now the cat is (fully) out of the bag. The Burmese president’s statement is nothing but a validation of their policy. The statements of Aung San Suu Kyi and political parties including NLD, which Rohingyas had also voted for, are speaking in almost identical voices for ethnic cleansing in the name of following citizenship law without taking origin and reality in consideration. The Rohingyas are now outside any social, national framework.
The government and local people say that vested groups, on both sides of the border, are involved in the crisis as they try to keep the border unstable, use Rohingyas as carriers of drugs and vote banks, and invite them here for third country resettlement through Bangladesh. How do you look at the issues?
The question is: who is controlling the border? What are the border guards and the local administrations doing over there? Who issues Rohingya people passports?
A section of the international community showed interest in third country resettlement for Rohingyas living in Bangladesh. The government, however, did not fully agree with the argument that it would be a pull factor for inviting more Rohingyas to cross the border into Bangladesh.
Regarding security threats, I must say that in every society there is a security industry that presents people they do not like as security threats. It is not acceptable.
How do you see the role that the international community has played over the years and recently on the Rohingya issues? In most cases, they push the Bangladesh authorities to help improve the situation of the Rohingyas living in refugee camps and outside. Do you think that the international community is really interested to extensively engage with authorities inside Myanmar to create an environment so that Rohingyas do not flee the country?
They miserably failed to persuade the Burmese authorities, let alone help improve the situation in the Rakhine state.
There is a tendency to keep them sidelined. Being Muslims, Rohingya people indeed are not high on the agenda of the so-called champions of democracy. Had they been Jews and Christians, the situation would have been different regionally and internationally.
Burma’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi also did not come up with things that the Rohingya people and the international community were expecting. She rather made a statement that pushed them into cold water.
Successive governments in Bangladesh have also failed to portray the real picture of the Rohingya situation to the international community.
What do you expect from the government?
The government, I believe, requires a long-term policy to deal with the incoming migrant population.
In addition, we also need a Burma policy to deal with one of the two most important neighbours.
The incoming migrant population should be largely dealt with on individual basis, case by case, and if necessary, on humanitarian grounds. Everyone certainly does not come from the same background — political, economic and otherwise.
I think the country needs a law to deal with incoming migrant people in order to avoid this situation. We need a properly equipped procedure to determine their status. If the Rohingyas are really economic migrants, it would be alright to send them back home.
However, the law minister assured on several occasions that a law on migrant peoples would be made. But he is yet to come up with it, within and outside parliament.
The government was reportedly planning for a headcount of Rohingyas living in Bangladesh. It is good thinking. However, I must say that it should be conducted professionally, instead of conducting just a headcount. Because only headcount with listing names and addresses would not help improve the Rohingya situation.
The government should both sensitise and mobilise the international community to step forward and help get rid of the crisis permanently.
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