Like previous years, in the Joint Response Plan (JRP) for 2021 made by the Secretariat of Inter-Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) in coordination with Bangladeshi authorities, one of the four strategic objectives was working towards sustainable repatriation to Myanmar. On the other hand, as years going by, some international partners are calling for long term planning for the Rohingya refugees in the camps which may actually lead to local integration in the long run.
Last July, the World Bank came up with the idea of integrating Rohingyas in Bangladesh which has been strongly rejected. Practically speaking, Bangladesh does not have the ability to adopt the idea of local integration of Rohingyas as it is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, struggling with poverty, over-population, unemployment and so on. Such an idea might in the long run be disastrous for the whole of Cox’s Bazar district in particular and Bangladesh on the whole. On the other hand, the necessity of improving the makeshift shelters and other facilities are growing in the camps as well.
UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, works for three durable solutions for refugees and displaced people in the long term: voluntary repatriation, third country resettlement and local integration
Bangladeshi people had welcomed the Rohingyas and showed them solidarity in 2017 when the massive influx of people started but after four years now, understandably none wants Rohingyas to be integrated in Bangladesh. The word Rohingya has been a term being used to humiliate someone now. Hostility between the Bangladeshi host community and the Rohingyas are increasing as Rohingya people are day by day getting conversant and confident about the way people live here and the way things work out which is making way to being integrated unofficially. The need of building peace and social cohesion between the Rohingya refugees and the host communities in Cox’s Bazar is demanding attention now.
Crimes in the refugee camps are increasing. This is not quite surprising as such a big number of stateless, hopeless, persecuted people live in highly congested conditions where crimes often go unpunished. Children stare at a bleak future, susceptible to being used by drug dealers. Given the location of the camps along the border with Myanmar, Rohingya people including children are worryingly becoming engaged with drug trafficking, smuggling and various other crimes.
Considering many factors, security analysts often say the risk of terrorism is highly unlikely in the Rohingya camps. So far, no such violence has been spotted except some Rohingya dacoit groups active in the camps. Nevertheless, hypnotically speaking, with the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, many do not completely rule out the possibility of Rohingya youths being inspired and getting organised for the takeover of Rakhine state from where they have been brutally made to flee. And such a thing could lead to greater destabilisation in the whole region.
UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, works for three durable solutions for refugees and displaced people in the long term: voluntary repatriation, third country resettlement and local integration. Repatriation efforts have already failed a couple of times in 2019. Given the current political crisis in Myanmar, the prospects for repatriation look dim for the time being; yet diplomatic efforts by Bangladesh are still in place.
An estimated 76000 children were born in the Rohingya camps and almost half of the total Rohingya refugees are children. There are serious child protection concerns like violence, abuse, child labour, child marriage and trafficking on rise.
The second option is third country resettlement. Who will welcome such a big number of people as a third country resettlement? The remaining option is local integration which Bangladesh cannot afford. So what is future of the Rohingyas going to look like and what should Bangladesh be doing in terms of refugee management? These are now some questions without any clear answers.
Cox’s Bazar has been a big tourist attraction not only in Bangladesh, but pretty much across the world. With the construction of the Marine Drive, the possibility of Cox’s Bazar being another Bali is on the way. Being a humanitarian worker, once I got to work with an international delegation where there was an Indonesian woman. After finishing our work in the Rohingya refugee camp, we were going back to Cox’s Bazar via Marine Drive. On the way, she was saying “You don’t need to go to Bali, it is more beautiful than that”. On the one side of the hill along the Marine Drive, there is the longest sea beach in the world, and on the other, there is the largest refugee settlement in the world. In many senses, the refugee settlement may trigger many security challenges to achieve that goal.
According to a report by Save the Children last year, an estimated 76000 children were born in the Rohingya camps and almost half of the total Rohingya refugees are children. There are serious child protection concerns like violence, abuse, child labour, child marriage and trafficking on rise. The very limited opportunities for children’s education have been badly interrupted by protracted COVID situation, and on top of that, natural disasters like monsoon flood, landslide, fire have routinely devastated their lives. So such a number of children growing up with almost no educational opportunities may one day risk the peace and stability in the region.
Among many other security measures being taken, supporting and giving children opportunities in learning and developing skills can be a part of measures to make them resilient and ensure peace and stability in the camps.
* Parvez Uddin Chowdhury, a humanitarian worker and independent researcher