Barrister Harun ur Rashid
The plight of refugees is not unfamiliar to the people Bangladesh because millions of Bangladesh nationals found themselves as refugees in India when the Pakistan military regime perpetrate unimaginable atrocities which may constitute even genocide or crimes against humanity under international law of refugees.
There are three core elements of being a refugee. The person must be outside of his/her country. He/she must seek protection from the other state. Third is the he/she must be treated by the 1951 Convention of the Status of Refugees, meaning that the person must not be sent back to the country from which the person has escaped.
Many refugees played important roles in many fields. For example Albert Einstein, Henry Kissinger and musician Gershwin came to the USA as refugees from Europe.
Bangladesh first confronted the issue in 1978 when Muslims in Myanmar (Burma) came from Akyab (now Rakhine province). In 1991 Bangladesh had to receive the Muslims of Akyab when they fled because of atrocities as reported by the UNHCR. Around 40% of the population in Rakhine province is Muslims. Since 2012, an estimated 90,000 thousands refugees arrived from Myanmar and they became a burden on Bangladesh. Moreover the Bangladesh community is disturbed economically and socially whenever refugees have settled inside Bangladesh.
Given the above background, State Minister for Foreign Affairs M Shahriar Alam has sought the support of OIC member states for creating a conducive situation in Myanmar for the Rohingyas’ safe and dignified return.
The state minister came up with the call while briefing OIC ambassadors and delegates about the evolving situation with the crisis at an recent OIC meeting, said a press release issued by Bangladesh Foreign Ministry.
He raised the possibility of creating a civilian “safe zone” for the returning Rohingyas in Myanmar, to be monitored by the human rights and humanitarian outfits in the concerned regional context.
Shahriar Alam also shared information on the government’s plans to relocate a portion of the Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar to the Bhashan Char island in consultation with all concerned stakeholders.
“By opening our borders to the persecuted Rohingyas, Bangladesh has not only saved lives but also stabilised the entire region,” the State minister said.
The international community has a shared responsibility to help restore the Rohingyas’ fundamental rights and freedoms, including their right to return to Myanmar in safety and dignity, said Shahriar Alam.
The minister of Bangladesh arrived in Geneva on to attend the launch of the UN Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis for 2019. The launch took place on 14th February 2019.
The OIC ambassadors and delegates from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan, Libya, State of Palestine and the Maldives reaffirmed their solidarity with the forcibly displaced Rohingya and commended Bangladesh for its generosity in hosting them.
The OIC member states also reiterated their commitment to help find a peaceful and lasting solution to the crisis through sustained engagement in the relevant human rights and humanitarian fora in Geneva.
State Minister Alam also had a bilateral meeting with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, where they discussed the latest developments with the Rohingya crisis.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh cannot accept any more refugees from Myanmar, Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque told a UN Security Council meeting on 28th February, 2019 in New York. He also urged the UNSC to take a decisive action to create a conducive atmosphere in Rakhine for Rohingya repatriation.
“I regret to inform the council that Bangladesh would no longer be in a position to accommodate more people from Myanmar,” he said. The secretary accused the Myanmar government of being obstructionist about bringing back more than one million Rohingyas who have fled violence amid brutal military crackdown in Rakhine in August 2017.
The UN says conditions in Myanmar are not yet right for the return of Rohingyas. Western powers at the council lamented the lack of action from the Myanmar government. Christine Schraner Burgener, UN secretary-general’s special envoy on Myanmar, told the Security Council that the UN access was currently “insufficient”. She also reported slow progress in efforts to help hundreds of thousands of Rohingya return home and warned that Myanmar’s elections next year could worsen the crisis.
“While Bangladesh and host communities have been very generous, we cannot expect this to continue indefinitely,” she said.
Peace remains fragile as Myanmar continues to wrestle with the legacy of decades of military rule and fundamental human rights issues, said a UN press release quoting Christine.
The Bangladesh foreign secretary further accused Myanmar of “hollow promises and various obstructionist approaches” during negotiations on returns, according to reports of AP, AFP, Reuters and others international media.
After a renewed flare-up in violence in Rakhine, new refugees are still crossing the border to Bangladesh, Shahidul said. “As far as repatriation is concerned, the situation has gone far from bad to worse.”
“Not a single Rohingya has volunteered to return to Rakhine due to the absence of a conducive environment there,” he said, adding that Bangladesh wanted nothing but a safe, voluntary, sustainable and dignified repatriation of the Rohingyas. “We expect the Security Council’s continued guardianship to resolve the crisis,” he told the meeting.
A Bangladesh foreign ministry press release said the foreign secretary questioned whether the country was “paying the price for being responsive and responsible in showing empathy to a persecuted minority population of a neighboring country”. He categorically said the root of the Rohingya crisis lies in Myanmar and so does its solution. Secretary Shahidul urged Myanmar to ensure full implementation of the MoU among Myanmar, UNDP and UNHCR as well as the recommendations of the Kofi Annan Advisory Commission on Rakhine .
(The author is a former Bangladesh Ambassador of the UN, Genva)
Barrister Harun ur Rashid