Bangladesh Seems To Be At End Of Its Tether With Rohingya Refugees, Says Situation ‘Untenable’

Bangladesh Seems To Be At End Of Its Tether With Rohingya Refugees, Says Situation ‘Untenable’A Rohingya refugee camp in Ukhia, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. (Wikimedia Commons)
Snapshot
  • Now, the Bangladesh foreign minister has publicly voiced the demand to Myanmar to take the Rohingyas back.

Bangladesh, which had provided shelter to at least 11 lakh Rohingyas from Myanmar, appears to be getting fed up with its ‘guests’. Bangladesh Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen is the latest ruling party leader, who has expressed exasperation with the Rohingyas in his country.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said Rohingyas were a threat to national and regional security in November last year. Over the past one year, many Bangladeshi politicians and civil society leaders have spoken against the Rohingyas and urged the international community to pressurise Myanmar to take them back.

Momen, in the course of a recent telephonic conversation with his Irish counterpart Simon Coveney, said that the “Rohingya situation has become untenable for Bangladesh”. Momen urged Coveney to get the European Union (EU) to exert pressure on Myanmar to take back the Rohingyas in Bangladesh.

It has been widely reported that the Rohingya refugees sheltered in two overcrowded camps of Kutupalong and Nayapara in Cox’s Bazar, have been found to be involved in many serious crimes including drug trafficking, arms smuggling, kidnappings, extortions, prostitution and human trafficking, abuse of children and women, besides various other illicit activities.

“The Rohingyas are a highly radicalised lot and have developed strong links with radical Islamist elements in our country. They have formed powerful crime syndicates that are now targeting Bangladeshi citizens. Bangladesh and its citizens are now at the receiving end,” said Mostafir Chowdhury, a senior leader of the ruling Awami League.

Bangladesh has, in the face of stiff opposition from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and human rights bodies (also read this), firmed up plans to shift the Rohingyas to Bhasan Char (watch this video), an offshore island where it has developed modern and adequate facilities. But the Rohingyas are unwilling to shift there.

Though UN agencies and many Western countries generously help Bangladesh with aid for the Rohingyas, the country also incurs substantial expenses of its own in running the two camps.

But it is not the inconsiderable  money spent by Bangladesh on the upkeep of Rohingyas that the country has started resenting, says Shamsher Alam Ripon, another Awami League leader.

“The Rohingyas have become a big headache for us. The local (Bangladeshi) people at Cox’s Bazar are fed up with them. There have been clashes between the Rohingyas and the local people. The crimes that many Rohingyas are involved in have riled the local people and they don’t want the Rohingyas in their midst any longer,” said Ripon, who hails from Chittagong. Cox’s Bazar is in the Chittagong administrative division of Bangladesh.

What is worrying the Bangladeshi authorities is the strong links that the Rohingyas have developed with radical Islamists in the country.

“Wahhabi clerics have strong influence on the Rohingyas, and a large number of them are highly fanatical. They pose a grave danger to Bangladesh and the entire region,” said Ghulam Mustafa Karim, a senior police officer at Chittagong.

That is why Bangladesh now wants the Rohingyas to return to Myanmar. But with Myanmar not taking them back and the Rohingyas also unwilling to return, Bangladesh finds itself in a fix.

“We cannot throw them out. That is why we want to shift them to Bhasan Char island where they will be under strict surveillance and where the influence of radical Wahhabi clerics can be curtailed,” said Awami League’s Chowdhury.

Apart from shifting the Rohingyas to Bhasan Char, Bangladesh is now pressurising the international community to lean heavily on Myanmar to take back the Rohingyas. Dhaka has urged both India and China, which have considerable influence on Myanmar and its military (called the ‘Tatmadaw’), to intercede on its behalf.

Bangladesh has also suggested, in recent interactions with leaders and envoys of many Western countries and the EU, to allow migration of Rohingyas into their countries. But most countries have turned down such suggestions.

“We cannot be expected to bear the burden of hosting Rohingya refugees for eternity. This (the Rohingya) issue is a major global concern and the responsibility of tackling it lies with all countries of the world, not just Bangladesh. There is no reason why Bangladesh should have to bear the entire burden,” reasoned Awami league’s Shamsher Alam Ripon.

Clearly, Bangladesh is fed up of hosting the Rohingyas and putting up with their crimes. It wants the Rohingyas to be put under surveillance at Bhashan Char pending their repatriation to Myanmar. Alternatively, it wants other countries to share the burden of hosting the Rohingyas.

Also read: This is why Bangladesh wants to shift its Rohingya refugees to an offshore island

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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