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Tue, 25 Feb 2020

Northeast Today

Rohingya Refugee: Nowhere to go

Rohingya Refugee: Nowhere to go
November 07
16:18 2019

Rohingya community have faced decades of systematic discrimination, statelessness and targeted violence in Rakhine State of Myanmar. They faced major violent attacks in 1978, 1991-1992, and again in 2016. Such persecution has forced Rohingyas into Bangladesh. However, in recent political development, Bangladesh has expressed unwillingness to provide shelter to them. Northeast Today reports.

In mid of September, a private university in Bangladesh suspended a student for being a Rohingya refugee. According to international media reports, Cox’s Bazar International University stated that it had suspended Rahima Akter Khushi, a 20-year-old woman who was born and brought up in Bangladesh after her parents fled to the country in 1992, and would investigate her case. The university authorities had come to know from media reports that Khushi had hidden her Rohingya identity to enroll in the institution. The institution’s head Abul Kashem told media that Rohingya can’t be admitted to the university, because they are refugees.

Rahima Akter hid her Rohingya identity to enroll at the university, but her dreams of pursuing higher education were dashed after she was suspended by University authority. Rahima who is from Kutupalong refugee camp has become the face of the struggle of Rohingya refugees who want to study. Rahima is one such case, which has got international focus, but there are many dreams like her which are dying every day.  Contrary to the popular believe in South Asia that Rohingyas are treated properly if not equally in Bangladesh due to the religion factor, Rohingyas are finding it very difficult to find a dignified way in the host country. Situation is grimmer than it looks. Bangladesh police have recently killed six Rohingya refugees which they claim were involved in the August 22 murder of Omar Faruk, a local leader of the ruling Awami League’s youth organization, in Cox’s Bazar.

Several United Nations human rights experts warned the Bangladesh government that ensuring justice for Faruk’s murder should not be “reactionary, summary and ad hoc.” Forcibly disappearing or killing suspects after taking them into custody has long been a problem in Bangladesh. After the recent killings, Bangladesh authorities said that these people were killed in “crossfire” or a “gunfight.” These familiar explanations are often a euphemism for extrajudicial executions. Bangladesh has changed its behavior toward the Rohingyas in the recent past.

Origin of the Crisis

The biggest refugee crisis in South Asia in the recent time is the Rohingya crisis. The Rohingya people are an ethnic minority that originally lived mainly in the northern region of Myanmar’s Rakhine State (formerly Arakan). They describe themselves as descendants of Arab traders who settled in the region many generations ago, but scholars don’t agree to this theory of their Arab origin and traces their origin with Bengalis.

The Rohingyas were denied citizenship in 1982 by the government of Myanmar, which sees them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They have faced decades of systematic discrimination, targeted violence and have become stateless. In the past their entire villages were burned to the ground, families were separated and killed, and women and girls were gang raped. Such persecution has forced Rohingyas into Bangladesh for many years since 1978.  They faced major violent attacks in 1978, 1991-1992, and again in 2016. However, it was August 2017 that triggered by far the largest and fastest refugee influx into Bangladesh. Since then, an estimated 745,000 Rohingya—including more than 400,000 children—have fled into Cox’s Bazar of Bangladesh.

As of March 2019, over 909,000 stateless Rohingya refugees reside in Ukhiya and Teknaf Upazilas. The vast majority live in 34 extremely congested camps, including the largest single site, the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Site, which is host to approximately 626,500 Rohingya refugees.

Changing behavior

On 20th September, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina stated, “Rohingyas are a big burden for Bangladesh. Local people of Cox’s Bazar have to face sufferings because of them (Rohingyas). Myanmar should take their citizens back”. The prime minister said this when visiting Chair of UK All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Anne Main-headed UK Conservative Friends of Bangladesh (CFoB) and the delegation of UK APPG on Population, Development and Reproductive Health jointly met the Prime Minister at the latter’s official residence Ganobhaban in the city. In early September, Bangladesh authorities ordered telecommunications companies to stop selling SIM cards and shut down mobile phone services to almost one million Rohingya refugees.

Earlier, Bangladesh has shown compassion in their openness toward the fleeing Rohingya by providing temporary shelter, keeping their borders open and, with the help of the international community, leading the humanitarian response on this issue.  However, with passing of time, Bangladesh’s behavior toward Rohingya refugees has changed. Bangladesh has its own problem when it comes to their struggling economy.

The influx of Rohingya refugees has inevitably had an economic, social, political, environmental, and security impact on the host communities in Cox’s Bazar district, where the Rohingya refugees have almost universally settled. The district is one of the most impoverished regions of Bangladesh, already struggling to cope with extreme poverty, high population density, and the effects of regular natural disasters and climate change.

Nowhere to go

In its recent political development, Bangladesh has made it clear that Bangladesh is no more a place for Rohingyas. In this scenario Rohingyas have no other option but to return to Myanmar, a country where they have traumatised memory.  Hence, many don’t prefer going back to Myanmar. Though Bangladesh is sending Rohingyas back to Myanmar, it has caused both fear and trouble among Rohingyas.  Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh camps protested stating that they will face the same violence and oppression in Myanmar for which they fled. The return of the Rohingyas has to be monitored, supervised and to be followed up by international authorities for their safely.

“Myanmar has yet to address the systematic persecution and violence against the Rohingya, so refugees have every reason to fear for their safety if they return,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director, Human Right Watch. “Bangladesh has been generous with the Rohingya – though conditions in the camps have been difficult – but no refugee should feel compelled to return to a place that isn’t safe.” What it is meant to be stateless only Rohingyas know.

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