Declining funds, deteriorating camp conditions, growing insecurity, and the adverse impact of the refugees on the host community have made Bangladesh a desperate host looking to reduce the burden. This crisis is also destabilizing regional security.
On 25 August 2017, the world witnessed the beginning of the forced displacement of more than 750 000 Rohingya people from Rakhine State in Myanmar, fleeing violence and persecution from the Myanmar military. The vast majority of them settled temporarily in the Cox's Bazar district of Bangladesh, while others fled across the region. Six years later, and despite international efforts and calls on Myanmar to create the conditions for their return to their homeland, the crisis is nowhere near resolution and remains a blot on the international community.
Over half a decade has passed since 2017, but Myanmar has not taken back a single Rohingya to their country. Instead, drama has been created around the return at various times. On November 23, 2017, a 19-point agreement was signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar under which Myanmar initially planned to take back 3,450 Rohingyas divided into seven groups.
The deal did not see the light of day on the issue of proof of citizenship. In 2019, The Gambia filed a case against the Myanmar government at the International Court of Justice, which is still ongoing. During the hearing of that case, all their lawyers and Myanmarese, including Aung San Suu Kyi, avoided the word 'Rohingya' and their citizenship issue. In February 2021 there was a political change in Myanmar with the military takeover but there was no change in opinion.
Rise of militant groups a worry
A Rohingya shelter project has been established in Bhasanchar along with Cox's Bazar to improve the quality of life of Rohingyas. The Bangladesh government is doing everything possible to ensure all the benefits to the Rohingyas but there is little cooperation from Myanmar. On June 18, 2021, a resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on the issue of Myanmar discussed the country's various problems, especially its state of emergency, political prisoners, and restoration of democracy, but the issue of Rohingya return did not find a place.
Due to the crisis festering, murders, kidnappings, shootings, torture, drug trafficking and other criminal activities are a regular occurrence in the camps. The activity of several armed groups in the camps is an open secret. According to the information of Cox's Bazar District Police, there are more than 2500 criminal cases against Rohingyas from 2017 to 2022, with more than 5000 charged with various crimes. More than 10 militant groups including Arsa, RSO, Nabi Hussain Group, Munna Group, Dakat Hakim Group are said to be active.
The 1982 military government barred the Rohingya from Burmese citizenship with the Burma Citizenship Act. Since then, Myanmar has refused to recognize Rohingya as citizens of their country and is using citizenship as a ruse in their return process. So far various attempts to return the Rohingyas have failed due to failure to guarantee the security of the Rohingyas.
A Chinese-brokered repatriation initiative failed in 2019, citing concerns that the environment in Rakhine state was not suitable for their return. Negotiations on Rohingya return stalled in February 2021 after Myanmar's military coup d'état changed the government.
Chinese mediation also runs aground
Earlier this year China sought to mediate a solution between Bangladesh and Myanmar without international intervention. Diplomatic-level discussions were held. As part of this process, a group of Rohingya went to Rakhine State for the first time in May this year to see if there was a habitable environment for their return. According to the Bangladeshi media, after returning to the camp in Cox's Bazar, some of them agreed to return to Myanmar, while others said the conditions there were not conducive to their return.
Myanmar also has started a new issue as to whether Rohingyas will be taken back to their original villages from which they fled or returned to so-called model villages. There was another spanner in the works when it came to light that the US reportedly plans to set up a resettlement program for the Rohingyas.
Bangladesh's top priority is Rohingya repatriation, as more than 1 million Rohingya have been staying here for six years. A section of the international community is playing politics with the Rohingyas in the camps in Cox’s Bazar. Due to this, their repatriation process is becoming more difficult.
Bangladesh has tried bilaterally, trilaterally, and multilaterally for the past six years for a viable solution. Advocacy networks such as UNHCR, HRW, and Amnesty International have failed to put effective pressure on Myanmar. Like the NGOs, the big powers also failed to pressurize Myanmar. Declining funds, deteriorating camp conditions, growing insecurity, and the adverse impact of the refugees on the host community have made Bangladesh a desperate host looking to reduce the burden. This crisis is also destabilizing regional security. Although the world community has lost sight of the Rohingya humanitarian issue as a result of the war in Ukraine, it also bears the responsibility to provide external guarantees for the safe repatriation of the refugees.
(The author is a Kolkata-based South Asian affairs researcher at the University of Calcutta. Views are personal. She can be contacted at email@example.com)