The only solution to the Rohingya crisis is their return to Myanmar with full dignity, security and rights
The only solution to the Rohingya crisis is their return to Myanmar with full dignity, security and rightsReuters

It is almost three years now that the Myanmar army launched the genocide against the Rohingyas and forcefully displaced over one million of the Rohingya people. Over these three years much has been written and said in the local and international media about the issue, but no progress has been made about the repatriation of these oppressed people, now sheltered in Bangladesh.

In the meantime, the global coronavirus pandemic has hogged all media space. These unfortunate people have almost been forsaken by the media too.

It is totally unrealistic and impractical for a most densely populated country of the world to give permanent settlement to such a large number of people. Unfortunately, there are people within the country and outside who are trying to subtly promote this dangerous idea as a possible alternative.

A few random bilateral meetings, an unequal agreement, an unsuccessful attempt to send back a handful of families – all these have become stale news. Even the regular meetings to be held for the sake of formalities have been postponed due to COVID-19. No new dates have been fixed.

Theoretically speaking, there can be three solutions to the refugee problem. If the environment and circumstances improve, they may be able to return to their homeland, just as the people of Bangladesh sheltered in India during the Liberation War returned home after the war ended.

Secondly, the refugees can be rehabilitated in a third country. This has happened recently in the case of large numbers of Syrians who fled from their war-torn homeland to Turkey and Greece. A majority of them have been given asylum by Germany and a few in other European countries.

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The neighbouring countries like Turkey, Bulgaria and Hungary just allowed them transit to Germany. The German chancellor turned this challenge into an opportunity. Germany won praise for their human rights stance and also had practical benefits from the decision. The country was in demographic dire straits because of its low birth rate and now, because of the high percentage of youth immigrants, Germany’s workforce crisis will be stalled for at least 30 more years. In the case of the Rohingyas, the western countries are patting Bangladesh on the back for giving refuge to the Rohingyas, but no one is coming forward to help out in that manner, and is not likely to do so.

The third possible solution is for the host country to permanently take in these refugees and absorb them as their own. There is no example in recent times of such a large refugee population being absorbed in this manner. And it is totally unrealistic and impractical for a most densely populated country of the world to give permanent settlement to such a large number of people. Unfortunately, there are people within the country and outside who are trying to subtly promote this dangerous idea as a possible alternative. We must remain alert and conscious about these attempts.

The only permanent solution to the Rohingya problem is the return to their homeland in full dignity, safety and with all their rights. The prime minister Sheikh Hasina made this clear in her speech delivered at the United Nations. Looking for any other solution would be akin to pleasing those who have committed the genocide. This can in no way be acceptable. At the same time, those who have carried out the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, must certainly be punished so that no one in future repeats such crimes.

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Last year there had been some positive progress in the last two issues. There are two cases against Myanmar, one in the International Criminal Court (ICC) and one in the International Court of Justice (ICJ). However, legal proceedings take time and even if Myanmar is proven guilty, there is no guarantee that the Rohingyas will be able to return to their homeland.

Bangladesh has actively tried to seek a peaceful resolution to the problem from the very outset of the crisis. It even held talks with persons involved in the crime against humanity and still is doing so. But now it is time to assess whether it will actually ever be possible to reach a solution in this manner. Firstly, history indicates that no positive results are yielded in this way. In the past such problems have never been resolved without the defeat and punishment of the criminals. Just because it didn’t happen in the past does not mean that it can’t happen in the future, but that would require a fundamental condition. That would require the Myanmar state and society to unconditionally recognise the Rohingyas, who have been living down the ages in Rakhine, as citizens of the country who can live like other citizens there with full rights, dignity and security. Therein lies the problem. Quite the opposite has taken place in Myanmar. The state has enacted a law to snatch away the citizenship of the Rohingyas.

It will not come as a surprise if ten years hence, the desperate Rohingya youth become violent. A community that has faced such genocide just might take up such an option. We must keep such an eventuality in mind and prepare accordingly.

Over the last few decades another factor has cropped up in various societies of Asia and that is the rise of extreme Buddhist nationalism and the political empowerment of the Buddhist cleric class. This malaise has gripped Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand. The most important and committed collaborators of the Myanmar army in the genocide against the Rohingyas and in driving them away, are the Buddhist clerics. These Buddhist priests do not just support the brutalities, but they spread hatred against the Rohingyas and actively instigate their being driven away.

The general people and the civil society hardly lag behind in this regard. The state and the society are infused with this toxic mindset against the Rohingyas which support this genocide and atrocities, with the hope that they will never return. The direct and indirect support of this mentality by China, Japan, India and ASEAN countries had given the Myanmar army and state a comfortable standing.

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It is clear that Myanmar has no intention of taking the Rohingyas back unless they are pressurised into doing so. But any such move to put pressure on Myanmar to take them back, is clearly absent among the international community.

Everyone more or less agrees that that there is no solution to the Rohingya problem anywhere in sight. Let’s look ahead 10 years. By then, because of the high birthrate, a few hundred thousand more children will be added to the already large Rohingya population here. Some will become victims of human trafficking and some will clandestinely merge with the rest of the Bangladesh population. And the majority will be frustrated, misguided and desperate youth, unwilling to accept the hopelessness of their situation. Unless they are given a sense of hope, their strength will become a destructive one and Bangladesh will bear the brunt.

Despite Bangladesh’s sincere efforts, a peaceful resolution to the Rohingya problem is nowhere in sight. So along with diplomatic efforts, we need a long-term ‘Plan B’ in place and must prepare accordingly.

It will not come as a surprise if ten years hence, the desperate Rohingya youth become violent. A community that has faced such genocide just might take up such an option. We must keep such an eventuality in mind and prepare accordingly.

Md Touhid Hossain is a former foreign secretary. This piece which appeared in Bangla in Prothom Alo print and online editions, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.