The day, 25 August, is a black day for the southern borders of Bangladesh. It marks the five years that the Rohingya refugees entered Bangladesh. Five years is a long time, but it still has not been possible to send the Rohingyas back.
The trial for the injustices done against them has not been completed. Their rehabilitation, work and education remain uncertain. In the meantime, civil war has flared up in Myanmar. Guerilla warfare has also spread across Arakan. In these five unfortunate years, there is hardly any space for the Rohingyas in Bangladesh to even lament together. They are divided in Bhasan Char and Cox's Bazar.
The Russian-Ukraine war has diverted global attention away from the Rohingya problem. While the civil war in Myanmar may have had less of an impact in Arakan, armed Rakhine people have created a state of war in the region. North Arakan is no longer in the state that it was when the Rohingyas left it. Fresh oppression may not have broken out against the 400,000 to 500,000 Rohingyas who stayed behind, but the Arakan Army has emerged as a new 'protagonist' in Arakan alongside the Myanmar military.
They are controlling several rural areas. So if the Rohingyas in Bangladesh now want to return to the home of the parents, they will have to deal not only with the Myanmar military government, but also with the local Arakan Army. But how will this be done and through whom? Over the past five years there has been no initiative to organise the Rohingyas politically. Quite to the contrary, influential Rohingya leaders in the camps have been killed in mysterious militant attacks.
Neither has there been any progress over the last five years in the negotiations to send the Rohingyas back. There were merely two failed attempts in 2018 and 2019. As in the past, Bangladesh looks towards its international 'friends' for a solution. Dhaka still hopes for China to soften the minds of the rulers in Myanmar. But China has not brought about any development in the interests of Bangladesh in this connection.
European and American human rights activists have always maintained that there was, and is, scope for Bangladesh to take a stronger and bolder stance in this international trial of the Myanmar generals
Again, even if China and the Myanmar junta are willing, the Arakan Army has emerged as a factor in the new circumstances. And Bangladesh has no reason to feel hopeful about the role of the international community, including the United Nations, for the time being.
A few years needed for trial of genocide
The only positive event in the Rohingya issue so far has been the trial of Myanmar's generals in the case filed by the Gambia in the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Myanmar failed to thwart this trial despite its attempts to this end.
However, this trial is likely to take quite a few years. Bangladesh is an unofficial and silent party in this ICJ trial since the victims are in its shelter. European and American human rights activists have always maintained that there was, and is, scope for Bangladesh to take a stronger and bolder stance in this international trial of the Myanmar generals. A striking addition to this movement for justice is that Myanmar's major political party NLD now fervently wants the generals to be punished. Their attitude towards the Rohingyas has changed too.
The more delay that there is in return, the more worry arises that these camps will become their permanent abode. However, young Rohingyas started up a "let's go home" campaign from 20 June
Barbed wire has made no difference
Due to the Russia-Ukraine war, assistance for the Rohingyas has begun to decrease, spelling fresh trouble for Bangladesh. In the meantime, many refugee experts feel that Bangladesh needs to pay attention to the education and rehabilitation of the Rohingyas in Cox's bazar and Bhasan Char.
As an indirect fallout of no work or work pressure, and the youth being deprived of education, crime is on the rise in the camps. Over the past five years, around 150 Rohingyas have been killed in attacks and counter attacks within the camps. The Rohingya camps are not fully safe for the Rohingyas anymore. Small criminal gangs are active in the various camps.
The camps were surrounded by barbed wire fencing in an attempt to bring crime under control, but that has simply served to restrict the movement of the Rohingyas. And the international community has criticised Bangladesh for this. While the criticism is small compared to the huge praise given for sheltering the refugees, it is evident that Bangladesh is gradually becoming weary and fatigued with the Rohingyas.
Every year 30 thousand new infants emerge in the camps. Marriages are taking place extensively too. All this is adding a new demographic dimension to the population along the southern borders. It is a difficult task to enclose such a large population in a hilly settlement. The Rohingyas have similar language and physique to the local people and so it is easy for them to emerge in the local community. Many of them are regularly going outside of the camps on work. Small businesses have increased within the camps too.
The roads within the camps have improved considerably. The more delay that there is in return, the more worry arises that these camps will become their permanent abode. However, young Rohingyas started up a "let's go home" campaign from 20 June.
Rohingya leader Master Mohibullah has started up such a movement before he was killed in 2021 in Ukhiya. Many of his associates are now eager to continue with that initiative. But how will they proceed without Bangladesh moral support? Who else is there to stand by the Rohingyas?
* Altaf Parvez is a researcher on South Asian history