Opinion

The international community is failing Bangladesh and the Rohingya

March 05, 2019

It is hard to blame the Bangladeshi government for losing patience with the international community. At the weekend it said that it would no longer take in Rohingya refugees fleeing ethnic cleansing from across the border in Myanmar’s Rakhine province.

Bangladesh is currently giving generous and much needed shelter to almost three quarters of a million Muslim Rohingya. These people have been driven from their homes by racist Buddhist fanatics with the clear connivance of the Myanmar military and most egregiously, under the indulgent gaze of 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi. At the end of this month, she will celebrate three years as effective leader.

In January 2018, Dhaka cut a deal with the Myanmar government for the return of 1,500 Rohingya each week with the idea all would have gone home within two years, with assurances from Aung San Suu Kyi that they would receive proper treatment and respect.

Fourteen months on, and Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque said that not a single refugee had chosen to leave the safety offered by his country because of the “hollow promises” of the Myanmar government. Speaking to the United Nations Security Council last week, Haque explained no Rohingya had volunteered to return “due to the absence of a conducive environment there”. He then asked the pertinent question: “Is Bangladesh paying the price for being responsive and responsible in showing empathy to a persecuted minority population of a neighboring country?”

And quite clearly the answer is clearly yes. The rest of the world has been busy wringing its hands about the genocidal depravities that have been taking place in Myanmar. But apart from protests, feeble fact-finding missions and the writing of reports that lay out in stark and awful data the nature of the horrors that have been visited on Myanmar’s unfortunate Muslim community, absolutely nothing has been done. And all this time Bangladesh has had to pick up the pieces of the abused and deracinated Rohingya community.

The outside world has so far given around $450 million to help feed and shelter the refugees, channeled through UN agencies, with this week the US announcing $45.5 million for the UN World Food Program’s work with the Rohingya. The government in Dhaka very understandably does not want the vast refugee camps to become a fixture. It has floated the idea of a safe zone inside Myanmar, sponsored and protected by Russia, China and India. This has been received with little enthusiasm, not least by Beijing which has a long and interesting border with Myanmar. Moreover, any such safe zone would not embrace all the homes and businesses from which the Rohingya were forced throughout Rakhine province and elsewhere in the country. Why should the refugees swap one camp for another, with far less certain safety because of its multinational protection?

Myanmar’s UN ambassador Hau Do Suan appealed to the Security Council for patience because of the “huge physical as well as psychological barriers” to allowing the Rohingya to return. He could not have spoken truer words. Psychologically, Aung San Suu Kyi’s Buddhist-majority Myanmar doesn’t want the Rohingya back because of its demented Islamophobia. And physically it knows this persecuted minority’s property has already been plundered and occupied by racists and opportunists. It is high time sanctions were reimposed on this genocidal country.


March 05, 2019
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