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Five years of the Myanmar-Bangladesh Rohingya crisis: where is the solution?

By Samina Akhter* 

Myanmar's violent ethnic cleansing program, which forcibly forced roughly a million Rohingya Muslims into Bangladeshi refugee camps, is going to mark its fifth anniversary upcoming August month. Myanmar's persecution of Rohingya Muslims is not new, with major waves of emigration recorded in 1978, 1992, and most recently in 2017.
Some 30,000 Rohingya children are being born every year in Bangladesh on average. As such, the number of Rohingya population has increased to more than 1.2 million. In this context, Bangladesh has requested the United Nations (UN) to put emphasis on family planning in the Rohingya camps.
Foreign secretary disclosed this information after the 39th meeting of the National Task Force on Rohingya affairs at his office on Sunday afternoon.
The start of a horrific military attack against the Rohingya people in Myanmar, which prompted three quarters of a million Rohingyas to flee over the country's borders, was nearly five years ago on August 5, 2017. The Myanmar military's deliberate, systematic, and extreme violence in killing, sexually assaulting, and displacing Rohingyas from their homelands and out of the country has been correctly labeled genocidal – that is, violence "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group." Though the persecution of Rohingyas in Myanmar did not begin on this date (it has been going on for decades), it was undoubtedly one of the largest and most methodical attacks against the minority in recent years. The unprecedented refugee flood of Rohingya people and other communities from Myanmar's Rakhine State into Bangladesh began almost five years ago.
Following a briefing by the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy to Myanmar, Bangladesh's permanent representative addressed the UN General Assembly on Monday (June12, 2022), urging the UN to expand its programs in Rakhine State, Myanmar, to return the forcibly displaced Rohingyas. The envoy further requested that the Special Envoy endeavor to ensure that the bilateral return arrangements for Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh are implemented as soon as possible.
Bangladesh's representative to the UN, we believe, was quite explicit in her speech. It's been nearly 5 years. In one of the worst man-made humanitarian tragedies in modern history, almost a million Rohingyas were forced to flee their homes. And the assurance of their safe return has yet to be fulfilled.
In November 2019, Gambia, on behalf of the fifty-seven-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation, filed the first international lawsuit against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice, accusing the country of violating the UN Genocide Convention. The court unanimously ruled in January 2020 that Myanmar must take emergency measure to protect Rohingya from violence and preserve evidence of possible genocide. A final ruling in the case could take years. Separately, the ICC authorized an investigation into alleged atrocities in November 2019. The International Court of Justice ruled on July 22, 2022, that The Gambia’s case for genocide against Myanmar would proceed despite Myanmar’s preliminary objections. According to academics and rights campaigners, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling has opened up fresh opportunities for the international community to put pressure on the Myanmar military to provide justice for the Rohingyas.
We're also concerned because the Russian invasion of Ukraine has shifted the world's attention away from Rohingya migrants and toward millions of fleeing Ukrainians seeking asylum in a variety of European nations. The Rohingya agenda should, at the very least, take a backseat in the face of an ongoing war and a rapidly changing World Order.
The point is that Myanmar is at the heart of the Rohingya catastrophe. The ruling military junta in that country must step up its efforts to secure the refugees' voluntary and dignified return.
Bangladesh has done more than enough to accommodate over a million Rohingya refugees at enormous economic, environmental, and security costs; now it is time for the UN to assess the situation. Bangladesh's efforts alone will not be sufficient to bring about a long-term solution to the situation.
At the same time, accountability for all transgressions and atrocities in Myanmar is critical. As a result, we would like to remind the UN Security Council to keep an eye on the International Court of Justice's (ICJ) Provisional Measures in the case brought by the Gambia on behalf of the OIC.
The international community, particularly UN member nations, has a tremendous humanitarian responsibility and commitment to Rohingya refugees.
The world community must awaken from its slumber and see that the man-made crisis was not caused by Bangladesh, but rather by Myanmar's internal turmoil, which was unfairly imposed on Bangladesh.
Despite a series of UN resolutions, Myanmar has showed little interest in repatriating the refugees in dignity and with full citizenship rights.
Apart from UN member states, regional countries and Myanmar's commercial partners, such as China, India, Japan, Indonesia, and Germany, ASEAN and OIC countries must also step up to put pressure on Myanmar to solve the humanitarian situation seriously.
Last but not least, if the international community fails to find a long-term solution to the humanitarian catastrophe, it must commit to taking in a million or more forcibly displaced refugees currently sheltering in Bangladesh, as it has done with many other refugees in the past.
We urge immediate action to assist in making significant progress in building the conditions for the safe, voluntary, dignified, and long-term return of refugees to Myanmar. It is vital to address the core causes of Myanmar's systematic discrimination, disenfranchisement, and communal violence.
We also urge the world community to remain in solidarity with Rohingya refugees, as well as the Bangladeshi government and people who are kindly hosting them. The United Nations is committed to providing active help in the future. The Rohingya's misery must not become a political football.
At a time when the funds for the Rohingyas are dwindling, and when the international community has grown evidently disinterested in safeguarding the community, the sustainable course of action that the international community should undertake is the safe and dignified repatriation of the Rohingyas through international mechanisms.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet paid an official visit to Bangladesh on 14-17 August 2022. The visit came ahead of the fifth anniversary this month of the Rohingya exodus from Myanmar to Bangladesh. However, acknowledging Bangladesh’s great difficulty in dealing with the Rohingya crisis, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet assured the UN’s continued efforts to realise the safe and voluntary return of the Rohingyas to Myanmar. She made the assurance when Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen said that the protracted stay of the displaced Rohingyas in Bangladesh bears the risk of the spread of radicalism and transnational crimes and thus may hamper regional stability.
During her trip to Cox’s Bazar, the high commissioner visited camps housing Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and met with the forcibly displaced Rohingya people, officials and non-governmental organizations. High Commissioner Bachelet appreciated Bangladesh’s humanitarian gesture towards the Rohingyas and recalled that the government took good care of the displaced Rohingyas during the pandemic by providing vaccines.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has rightly pointed out to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, that Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh must eventually return to Myanmar. It's been almost five years since the Myanmar military carried out its most recent genocidal campaign against the Rohingyas, forcing around a million of them to flee to Bangladesh in search of safety. For a resource-constrained country like ours, hosting so many of refugees for five years has been a great challenge indeed.
Thus, on the fifth anniversary of the Rohingya crisis, we urge the world to do something for the Rohingya refugees. They are not naturally refugees. They have birth right to live in their birthplace, Myanmar, with proper dignity. Otherwise, as a conscious human being, we can't ignore our responsibility.
 ---
*Dhaka-based columnist and woman and human rights activist

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