The killing of Rohingya leader Mohib Ullah has brought to the forefront once again the uncertainty about repatriation of the refugees. However, obviously the discussions at the moment focus on proper and speedy investigations of the killing. Then there is the question of security at the camps. The talks on repatriation which haven’t been started in the past four years, are hardly likely to start any time soon. And the discussions going on within the country and outside, in reaction to the Mohib Ullah killing, are also not conducive to repatriation – quite the contrary, actually.
Even before the investigations into the Mohib Ullah murder are complete, the imaginary scenarios that are being conjured up, are endeavouring to project the camps as dens of organised crime or to indicate that several groups within the camps are preparing for an armed struggle. The latter conjecture is on the lines of propaganda projected by Myanmar’s military junta. And we are also forgetting that those who are being accused of organised crime, cannot be involved in such criminal activities without political patronage.
Mohib Ullah is an example of the fact that not all allegations are always true and also that these are often motivated. A group of intellectuals and politicians had accused him of conspiracy for organising a commemoration of Rohingya Genocide Day on 22 August 2019 in the camps. Their statements and speeches were tainted with an underlying hatred towards the Rohingyas. There was also ample debate about how he managed to meet with the US president Donald Trump. Now those very same people are accusing the anti-repatriation quarters of killing him for his stand in favour of repatriation. While this possibility cannot be rejected, if this theory is established before the investigations are completed, then there are apprehensions that the actual criminals will remain behind the scenes.
As thousands of Rohingyas had gathered in the camps to commemorate genocide day, security had been quickly stepped up around the camps. Barbed wire barricades were set up, giving rise to criticism from human rights groups and the western countries. And all sorts of prohibitions were placed on Mohib Ullah’s organisation, Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights. Over the past two years the Rohingyas were not allowed to have any programmes to commemorate that day. Several local and foreign NGOs have also been barred from the Rohingya camps over the past couple of years. But despite all these strict security measures, the most familiar face of the Rohingyas could not be saved.
Two days ago, home minister Asaduzzaman Khan said, “There are many members of our law enforcement in the Rohingya camps. The situation is quite good.” And then he said, “Arms are coming in from Myanmar to destablise the stable situation.“ Next he said, "We will open fire if necessary, to stop drugs and arms coming in over the border. The minister’s words indicate that it is becoming more important to beef up security in the camps."
No one can deny the need for proper security. But it is misleading to believe that added security will bring peace and comfort to the camps. The frustration of the children and youth in the camps is only natural if they are not kept busy in studies or other activities. This increases the risk of them turning to crime. And all are aware about those who use them, or may use them, as means for their criminal ends. The list of the politicians who run the drug trade in Cox’s Bazar is available with the government’s narcotics control directorate. And the cases filed against OC Pradeep Kumar Das will also reveal how they are aided and abetted by the law enforcement.
Only the law enforcement agencies will be able to verify the allegations of arms coming into the Rohingya camps. The problem is that questions will then arise about why the arms are coming in. Are the Rohingyas preparing for any sort of armed struggle? Such speculations will benefit the Myanmar military junta. After all, these justified their attack on the Rohingya, driving them from the country, claiming that they were a security threat. They will use the same excuse in the case of any possible repatriation move. This will have adverse consequences.
What then is the future of Rohingya repatriation? There is no doubt that the direct military takeover in Myanmar has deepened the crisis and made the possibility of repatriation even more uncertain. While ‘international community’ generally implies the western world, this issue depends on the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. The lack of consensus among these five members has caused the major global conflicts to be prolonged even further. The Rohingya crisis is one such instance. And it is because of China, the one country that could play the role of a catalyst, that the consensus has not been reached in the Security Council.
While western countries boycotted the Myanmar government after the military takeover, China did not waver in its support. China had even taken up the role as a mediator with Myanmar for the repatriation of the Rohingyas, but after the virtual meeting in January last year, the face-to-face meeting scheduled to be held in May this year, did not take place. There are doubts about the future of this initiative.
Politics over refugees is nothing new and is seen in many places of the world. We all know about the anti-immigration policies of the Tories in Britain. But Britain is an ideal destination for those seeking political asylum. That is why political asylum seekers from all over the world talk all sorts of risks to reach France and then take a perilous trip across the English Channel to somehow enter Britain. Britain pays Frances millions of pounds to prevent such passage through the channel in rubber dinghies. But even so, this year 17,000 asylum seekers have entered Britain. Speaking at the Conservative Party conference, home minister Priti Patel said on 5 October that France was a safe country with no war of conflict and so there was no reason for any asylum seeker to come to the UK directly from France.
We have also seen thousands of asylum seekers thronging the border of the US. The cruelty towards them during the president Trump’s time in office, had given rise to strong controversy. These asylum seekers included both economic immigrants and political asylum seekers too. They had crossed many countries to reach the border in Mexico.
These instances can give rise to the question, if Rohingyas want to seek the asylum of their choice, can Bangladesh give them that opportunity? If they want to go by land route to any other countries in South Asia or by sea route to any countries in Southeast Asia to seek their fortune, can Bangladesh give them that chance? When other countries feel the pressure like we do, then perhaps their attitude towards Myanmar will change.
* Kamal Ahmed is a senior journalist.
* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir