Rohingya Crisis: The burden gets heavier

DHAKA (The Daily Star/ANN) - Rohingya crisis drags on as international community did little to put pressure on Myanmar. Bangladesh facing increasing challenges, security risk.

By stripping the Rohingyas of citizenship in 1982 and sparking waves of violence since the 70s, Myanmar has created a crisis for which Bangladesh is having to deal with socio-economic burdens, security risks, and diplomatic challenges, analysts said.

Though the violence against the Rohingyas going on for around four decades, the international community did little to help address the problem, they said, adding that the burden on Bangladesh keeps increasing.

The situation is so grim that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the 74th UN General Assembly this year had to say that Bangladesh was bearing the burden of a crisis which was of Myanmar’s own creation. “It’s an issue solely between Myanmar and its own people, the Rohingyas. They themselves have to resolve it.”

“Despite our efforts to contain it, the crisis is now becoming a regional threat. Besides, increasing congestion and environmental degradation is challenging health and security in the area. 

International relations analysts, however, hope the genocide case at the International Court of Justice, where a three-day hearing starts today, will put real pressure on Myanmar so that it takes concrete steps to ensure Rohingya repatriation, their citizenship and safety in Rakhine.
Former foreign secretary Touhid Hossain said, “Rohingya crisis is affecting not only Bangladesh, but also regional cooperation. It needs to be solved at the soonest.” 

The waves of violence, including forced labour, rape, and religious persecution at the hands of the Burmese army in Rakhine state since the 70s, caused mass Rohingya exoduses -- major ones being in 1977-78 1991-92, 2012, 2016, and 2017.

Most of those who fled Myanmar in the 70s and early 90s were repatriated by 1997. But since then repatriation has been very thin. There was no return of the Rohingyas after 2005, government officials said. 

The latest military crackdown since August 2017 turned out to be the most brutal one during which the Rohingyas faced murders, rapes, mutilation of bodies, and burning of their homes.

UN investigators say that these crimes were committed with genocide and ethnic cleansing intent.

More than 750,000 Rohingyas fled Myanmar since then, bringing the total number of refugees in Bangladesh to more than a million. 

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a bilateral deal in November 2017 for repatriation when Myanmar committed to creating conducive conditions for Rohingya return.

In 2018, the UNDP and the UNHCR also signed a tripartite deal with Myanmar for helping it create conducive environment in Rakhine state. Nothing, however, worked. Two repatriation attempts – one on November 15 last year and the latest on August 22 this year – fell flat as the Rohingya refugees alleged that there was no guarantee of citizenship and safety in Rakhine.

Even the UN Security Council could not take any concrete action against Myanmar mainly for objections from veto powers China and Russia, close allies of Myanmar. 

ASEAN countries too have not been able to play an effective role. 

China, Japan, and India, who are allies of Bangladesh and Myanmar, want a bilateral solution to the crisis, but their efforts have not been effective so far. 

Bangladesh, a crowded country with limited natural resources, is seriously burdened with the crisis. 

According to government data, between August 2017 and November 3 this year, Bangladesh government directly spent Tk 2,308 crore for management of the Rohingya crisis. 

Due to the presence of the Rohingyas, 6,164 acres of reserved forest has been damaged. Its local cost is Tk 2,420 crore. Besides, biodiversity worth Tk 1,409 crore was also damaged.

Ground water table in Cox’s Bazar has dropped seriously, while local infrastructure and health services came under serious strain, said officials concerned.

According to a recent report of the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), Cox’s Bazar saw a demographic imbalance due to the Rohingya influx. Population density in Ukhia and Teknaf was 792 and 680 respectively, but after the Rohingya influx it went up to 3,468 and 2,085, which turned the locals into a minority.

Locals are also facing trouble in getting health services as 25 percent services of government hospitals go towards the refugees, it said. Some 50 percent of the local administration’s human resources and logistics are deployed for refugee management.

As the Rohingyas provide cheap labour, wages for local labour went down by 15 percent, while prices of daily essentials went up 50 to 60 percent. 

According to the TIB report launched on December 5, the funding for the Rohingyas from the international community was on the decline. Bangladesh got 73 percent of the projected fund for 2017, 69 percent for 2018, and 55 percent as of October this year.

“This means the pressure on Bangladesh is going up. It will have adverse socio-economic, political and security implications,” said TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman. 

Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies President Maj Gen Muniruzzaman (retd) said several people have already been killed in fighting between the Rohingyas and locals, a worrisome trend. 

“Prolonged stay of the Rohingyas without definitive future creates an environment that triggers internal radicalisation. It has serious regional implications too,” he told The Daily Star.

He said the Rohingyas were also becoming involved in drug smuggling. They were potential targets of local and international human traffickers.

Human trafficking via the Bay of Bengal came to light in 2015 when Malaysian and Thai authorities discovered dozens of mass graves of the Rohingyas in the bordering jungles and mountains of the two countries. 

Human Rights Commission of Malaysia and Fortify Rights, a nongovernment rights body, in an investigation during 2012-15 found more than 170,000 people were either trafficked or smuggled from Myanmar and Bangladesh to Malaysia and Thailand.

Human trafficking of the Rohingyas could contribute to the lowering of Bangladesh’s ranking in the US Trafficking in Persons report, said Maj Gen (retd) Muniruzzaman.

“Cox’s Bazar is a tourist district for its beach and natural beauty. But damage to natural forest, pollution of air, and water are major factors that can harm our tourism,” a government official said.

Former foreign secretary Touhid Hossain said citizenship is the most important aspect for the Rohingya return, but Myanmar wants to issue National Verification Cards, which are given to foreigners. 

Rohingyas say that they lived there for generations and cannot accept the card.

Bangladesh’s relations with Myanmar could have been much better if the Rohingya crisis was not there, he said.