Amid worsening Myanmar situation, pressuring Bangladesh to accept more refugees will deepen Rohingya crisis

As the situation in Rakhine state remains severe, with recurrent clashes between the Arakan Army and the Tatmadaw providing no apparent resolution, sustaining the lives of over 1.3 million Rohingya is a massive challenge for Bangladesh. 

Kamal Uddin Mazumder Jun 17, 2024
Rohingya (Representational Photo)

Bangladesh faces intensifying pressure to accept more Rohingyas after a renewed flare-up of violence in Rakhine between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA), a burden the government in Dhaka insists it cannot bear. An estimated 45,000  Rohingyas have reportedly fled to an area on the Naf River near the border with Bangladesh seeking shelter. UN rights office spokeswoman Elizabeth Throssell has asked Bangladesh to allow those Rohingyas, citing humanitarian grounds. UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Thomas Andrews appealed to the government of Bangladesh to "reverse its closed border policy" and demonstrate their humanitarian support for the Rohingya once again. But the Bangladeshi government is holding firm, arguing that it already hosts over a million Rohingya refugees and cannot take in any more.

The international community has seemingly diverted its attention from the plight of the million-plus refugees who are still subsisting within camps in Bangladesh, with the ever-dwindling flow of aid amid a multitude of other global events like the Ukraine war and the Gaza crisis. It has yet to offer any concrete measures for the sustainable return of all Rohingya refugees and displaced persons from Myanmar, opting for mealy-mouthed assurances and words that they are working towards cooperation. Although international communities, including United Nations organizations and Western countries, have assured that they would facilitate the return of the forcibly displaced people by creating a congenial atmosphere in Myanmar, not a single Rohingya has gone back home so far.

International community and rights groups need to understand that Bangladesh can neither keep on sheltering Rohingyas for a longer period nor allow any new influx- due to its impact on the economy, high population density, and national security concerns. While they acknowledge that rations cuts, inadequate infrastructure, spiraling violence, and reported forced recruitment by Rohingya militant groups have threatened the lives and well-being of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, they must realise that putting pressure on Bangladesh to accept new refugees will not help the Rohingya anyway.

Cannot sustain the burden

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan made Bangladesh's position clear, saying that no more Rohingya or Myanmar nationals would be allowed to enter Bangladesh. Accepting any new influx of Rohingyas from Myanmar would simply worsen Bangladesh's already massive burden of sheltering over a million Rohingyas who have migrated here over the decades, the largest influx of which occurred in 2017.

Indeed, Bangladesh, which is currently dealing with a number of economic and climatic issues, cannot sustain the burden that it has since the 1980s. With no solution for finding the refugees a permanent home, the Rohingya crisis had turned into a big problem for Bangladesh for a long period. While donors only contributed 60% of the needed funds in 2020, down from 72% to 75% two years earlier, Bangladesh got around 51.4% in 2023 and 49% in 2022With diminishing international aid, the country is spending US$ 1.22 billion every year for the Rohingyas. An immense financial burden forced Bangladesh to seek loans for the Rohingya's well-being. In an unprecedented move in December last year, Bangladesh, for the first time, sought a $1 billion loan from the WB and ADB-a financial package consisting of $535 million in loans and $465 million in grants. In such a situation how can Bangladesh welcome any more Rohingyas?

A looming security crisis 

Bangladesh confronts not just financial constraints but also the prospect of a national security breakdown. Every day, the situation in the refugee camps deteriorates as certain Rohingyas, particularly youths who have joined armed organizations and criminal gangs, commit crimes including abduction, extortion, drug peddling, robbery, gold smuggling, and other offenses. Many of them are lured by the militant groups posing a security threat to the region. According to statistics, for a period of six years, there have been over 500 kidnappings and 186 murders in the camps housing Rohingya people in Bangladesh. Bangladesh already spends millions of dollars on managing law and order in the Rohingya camps, which is placing an immense financial burden on the country’s economy.

There is no denying that the relations between the locals and the Rohingya refugees are rapidly deteriorating in Bangladesh. They are frequently getting involved in conflicts. Bangladesh is trapped between a rock and a hard place as they cannot compel Rohingya refugees to return to Myanmar, where they would risk more violence and bloodshed; but they also cannot afford to establish the essential circumstances for them to coexist peacefully with locals. So, it is hypocritical to expect a developing country that has been housing hundreds of thousands of refugees with little assistance from the international community for decades to do so indefinitely.

Bangladesh has frequently expressed security concerns in various international forums in the midst of the ongoing Rohingya crisis, despite the fact that there seems to be no meaningful and apparent effort to repatriate them. In the last close to eight years, development nations and international organizations have not taken practical steps to help resolve the Rohingya crisis; instead, they have issued empty statements of concern or sent aid to the refugees in Bangladesh. But the developed countries, which have vast land and low levels of population density, could shelter huge numbers of Rohingyas, easing pressure on Bangladesh. Moreover, they can also ask Myanmar authorities or the Arakan Army to provide a humanitarian corridor in Rakhine for the shelter, food, and healthcare of Rohingyas so they are not forced to flee to Bangladesh.

The international community has a moral obligation to guarantee that the Rohingya get justice. and the only way to do so is to put pressure on Myanmar to acknowledge its shortcomings to facilitate the safe repatriation of refugees. As the situation in Rakhine state remains severe, with recurrent clashes between the Arakan Army and the Tatmadaw providing no apparent resolution, sustaining the lives of over 1.3 million Rohingya is a massive challenge for Bangladesh. Instead of forcing Bangladesh to accept new migrants, we expect the international community to provide not just quick financial relief but also a long-term and effective solution to the crisis.  

(The author is a security and strategic affairs analyst based in Dhaka. Views are personal. He can be reached at

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