Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, remarked during a recent visit to India that she stands poised to repatriate the Rohingya, also known as Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals (FDMN), who are now living in camps.
The FDMNs are non-state citizens who are neither refugees nor citizens of their own country, but rather are categorised as citizens of another nation. As of August 25, the humanitarian catastrophe brought on by the rising violence in Myanmar's Rakhine State has already endured for five years.
For the two countries' geopolitical ties to remain strong, the FDMN's return and Sheikh Hasina's appeal for Indian intervention are essential. Odd coincidence: Bangladesh will hold elections in 2023, a time when the Rohingya issue is likely to become a top political concern, and in India, the ruling regime has already started using Rohingya phraseology for 2024 based on Twitter arguments between the Home Ministry and Mr. Hardeep Singh Puri, the Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs.
The efficacious utilisation of the Rohingya card during the 2019 general elections may have helped India's current leadership. With Sheikh Hasina's endorsement, Bangladesh could attempt to emulate the Rohingya's political rhetoric.
Meanwhile, Sheikh Hasina has an India-focused foreign strategy despite the mounting sensitivities following Prime Minister Modi's visit to the neighbouring country last year because she wants to portray herself as the territorial bigwig counterpart of the Prime Minister.
The Rohingya people have been driven out of Myanmar since 2017, a practice that has come to be referred to as ethnic cleansing and even genocide by the international community. Officials from the UN have stated that the military leaders of the country should be held accountable for the worst crimes against humanity. However, the predicament of these refugees living in the landlocked peripherals has largely been forgotten over time and among all the current crises in the world.
The future course of action for the repatriation of the FDMNs, which suddenly starts to look dismal in the domestic run-offs in both the coup-torn Myanmar and the election-awaiting Bangladesh, remains a crucial question after five years of the tale. The Rohingya are caught between the possibility of returning to Myanmar and their reality as displaced people in Bangladesh. Bangladesh assumes that they will return to their country of origin, but this period of time in limbo seems to never end.
Rohingya Situation Remains Unchanged
The fact that Bangladesh, a lower middle-class nation that has not joined the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, has offered some 918,814 safe havens in the Cox's Bazar district is remarkable. The Rohingya who reside in camps are forthright about the fact that Bangladesh is not their place of birth. They have been pushed out of society in Myanmar because they lack official citizenship.
The Rohingya want to establish anew, but given Bangladesh's determination to have them returned, pressure from nearby countries like India and Thailand to deport those who currently live there, and the military takeover in Myanmar, they might not have somewhere to go.
Cox's Bazar has grown to be the biggest refugee colony in the world since 2017. Meanwhile, Cox's Bazar is extremely alarmed as a result of recent National Security Intelligence (NSI) actions in Bangladesh. The NSI has been hosting meetings around the camp to encourage the
Rohingya population to start planning "Going Home" protests, according to many sources with first-hand information. The scenario in the camp has been brought about by the Bangladeshi authorities, who have made it such that any agency on the part of the migrants would result in dire repercussions and that anyone who does raise their voice won't be protected. In addition, Bangladesh has given free rein to armed opposition organisations in the camps, including the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).
Worrying developments in the camps indicate that the Bangladeshi government is leading efforts to coerce refugees into returning home in order to avoid violating the principle of non-refoulement. The government of Bangladesh is growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of advancement toward their repatriation to Myanmar's Rakhine State.
The campaign for repatriation may be an attempt by the Bangladeshi government to show its political base that the Rohingya still want to return home and that their desire is still being prevented by the political and social conditions in Myanmar.
The Rohingya population has repeatedly been subjected to harsh measures by the Bangladeshi government when attempting to express their views on the subject of returning. The Rohingya have also recently been relocated, as per many sources, forcibly to the island of Bhasan Char.
The international organisations backing the Rohingya, including the United States and the European Union, have incensed both Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Bangladesh suspects the West of supporting the call for the Rohingya to return home, while Myanmar has defended its stance against the Rohingya in all international forums. Former de facto leader Suu Kyi emphatically denied the horrific crimes.
The Bangladeshi government aims for repatriation but has maintained that any repatriation will be consensual. Meanwhile, sources suggest that the government is unhappy with the standards for repatriation demanded by the Rohingya community and suggest that Bangladesh is instead seeking allies like China and India to help with repatriation plans made with the State Administrative Council (SAC) despite less than ideal conditions.
Even though China and India rarely agree on international issues, they have shown sympathy for Myanmar's government despite pressure from the outside world over the Rohingya problem in Myanmar. China recently committed to assisting Bangladesh in the return of thousands of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar.
Both China and India have had greater opportunities to boost their strategic footprint and establish themselves as regional leaders as a result of taking part in the mediation process. Whether it be by offering humanitarian aid or by helping with strategic planning to alleviate the Rohingya crisis, the root problem still exists.
Does Myanmar have the resources and the willingness to accept the refugees peacefully? India and China have not given Myanmar the emphasis required to foster an environment that encourages the repatriation of refugees. If this wasn't ensured, the Rohingya would go through suffering and marginalisation once more.
Previous Attempts at Repatriation
Previous attempts at repatriation, mostly orchestrated by China, have all failed because the Rohingya refugees rejected the idea out of concern that the violence that drove them from their homes is not over and will return. These fears have only been exacerbated by the military coup in Myanmar last year.
There haven't been any returns since the National League Democracy-led administrations and the military-dominated State Administrative Council (SAC) following a coup in February 2021 have repeatedly failed to provide the circumstances necessary for secure repatriation. It is already problematic since SAC has a protracted history of committing atrocities against the Rohingya. It suggests returning to the 135,000 people who have been surviving in "resettlement camps" for the previous ten years, which are ringed by barbed wire and manned by its troops.
On the contrary, between 50 and 75 percent of Rakhine State is reportedly under the authority of the Arakan Army, which includes regions where the Rohingya could choose to return. A tenuous truce that has been in effect since November 2020 is keeping the state together after a catastrophic fight between both the Arakan Army and the military.
The Rohingya population, embroiled in the crossfire, might experience catastrophic consequences if this falls at any moment. In return for citizenship, the Tatmadaw, the Myanmar military that has been committing crimes against the Rohingya, has been luring Rohingya to join them in their fight against the Arakan Army. However, it looks like there won't be any formal repatriation proceedings in the foreseeable future to meet this selfish demand, much to the dismay of the Rohingya.
(Ashraf Nehal is a foreign policy analyst and a columnist who mainly tracks South Asia. He can be reached on Twitter at @ashrafnehal19 and on Instagram at ___ashraf___19. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for his reported views.)