Rohingyas: Which big powers are standing by their side?

Rohingya refugee children queue for aid in Cox`s Bazar

According to the United Nations it was ‘textbook ethnic cleansing’. The genocide of Myanmar, a brutality that saw almost around a million Rohingya refugees taking shelter in Bangladesh, marked its six anniversary this week. The amount of aid and sympathy of the friendly countries which have extended their hand of support to Bangladesh by providing shelter and humanitarian living arrangements for this huge number of refugees, is gradually dwindling.

From 2017 to this year, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has seven times called for USD6 billion in emergency assistance for the Rohingyas. However, their average rate of receiving aid is 63.6 percent. So far this year, less than 30 per cent of the funds has been pledged. The United States alone has provided USD1.61 billion in aid received so far, which is about 27 per cent. However, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken's statement on Friday stated that the total US aid for the Rohingyas is USD2.10 billion. On the other hand, China gave 400,000 dollars only once and Russia gave a total of two million dollars. This figure can be found in the records OCHA’s financial tracking service.

An overall review of political and economic support for the Rohingya crisis shows that the global conflict in geopolitics is directly reflected in financial support as well. As the political role of the US and its allies on the recognition of citizenship and safe and dignified repatriation of the Rohingya and the prosecution of the genocide is strong, so is their financial support. In contrast, China and Russia, two powerful countries that have taken a soft political stance towards Myanmar, and neighboring India are playing an insignificant or nominal role in providing humanitarian aid to the Rohingya.

OCHA publishes on its website a detailed account of the amount of aid requested and who has provided what amount each year in the Annual Accounts from 2017 to 2023. It shows that every year the US remains the single largest donor. In 2020, only 59.6 percent of OCHA's appeals were funded, with the US providing 49.7 percent. Then the second position belongs to the United Kingdom, who has given 417 million dollars, the European Union is in the third position with 260 million dollars. Australia ranks fourth with 238 million dollars, and Japan ranks fifth with a total of 174 million dollars.

According to OCHA, China responded to their seven calls for aid only once in 2020 and gave 400,000 dollars. Russia gave a total of 2 million dollars in 2018 and 2019, 1 million dollars each year. There is no record of any financial assistance from India in the OCHA records. Among Muslim countries, the governments of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Qatar, and several foundations have given money to the OCHA fund. In the first five years, Bangladesh has given a total of five and a half million dollars to this fund. Bangladesh has not given any money to this fund last year and current year.

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The Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, better known as Chatham House, in a research paper published in July last year, 'China's Overseas Humanitarian Action to Assist Refugees', shows that China is gradually pursuing a policy of increasing humanitarian assistance for refugees. But it is mainly through UN agencies and bilateral diplomatic relations. The study drew this conclusion by analysing a decade of refugee assistance data from 2012 to 2021. It can be seen that they have extended their support several times to the United Nations Organisation for Palestine, Afghanistan, Syria, Cameroon, Burundi, Sudan, Congo, Niger, Iraq, etc. But they did not give any assistance except four hundred thousand dollars once in 2020 for the Rohingyas.

The US, UK, European Union countries, Japan and Australia have continued to be vocal in taking a political role at the international level on the question of recognition of the Rohingya's citizenship, safe repatriation with humanitarian dignity and accountability for the brutal persecution of the Myanmar government and military. In contrast, China, Russia and India did not support the UN Security Council's condemnation of Myanmar or any concerted international action against it. Veto-wielding China and Russia have repeatedly opposed any resolution against Myanmar in the Security Council.

In 2017, most democratic countries, including the US and the European Union, imposed sanctions against several top generals, including Myanmar's army chief Min Aung Hlaing, and businesses run by the military in the wake of the Rohingya genocide and persecution in 2017. These countries increased the scope of the sanctions after the imposition of military rule after the elections in 2021.

At the same time, Myanmar's army chief General Hlaing went on official visits to China, Russia and India and bought arms and equipment from those three countries. Sweden's Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) conducts regular research on the world's arms trade. According to SIPRI’s Trends in International Arms Transfer 2022 report published in March 2023, 42 percent of Myanmar's arms purchased from 2018 to 2022 came from Russia, 29 percent from China, and 14 percent from India.

Human rights organisations and various UN agencies have said that an environment for safe and dignified repatriation has not been created in Myanmar. Various organisations of Rohingyas have also opposed the repatriation without recognition of citizenship

The report presented by the Special Rapporteur on arms supply to Myanmar at the 53rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council held from 19 June to 14 July, 'The Billion Dollar Death Trade: The International Arms Networks That Enable Human Rights Violations', depicts the situation of arms supply to Myanmar after the imposition of military rule in 2021. In addition to Russia, China and India the supply of weapons from Singapore and Thailand and a total purchase of arms worth about a hundred billion dollars has been projected.

China has lagged behind in providing financial support to the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, but has played an important role in building infrastructure for them. On 31 December 2018, a Reuters report titled 'A Remote Home for the Rohingya' said that the Chinese construction company Sinohydro has completed the construction of an eight-mile coastal dam at Bhasanchar, costing 280 million dollars. The expenditure was borne almost exclusively from the own fund of Bangladesh.

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Apart from these statistics, various countries may have provided assistance to the Bangladesh government for the Rohingyas on a bilateral basis. However, no reliable statistics are available. On 14 September 2017, the Indian government announced Operation Insaniat for the Rohingyas in a statement. In that statement they pledged 53 tonnes of relief material. The statement also announced to give another seven thousand tonnes later. Apart from this, they are not known to have provided any financial support.

Bangladesh has been calling for a stronger role for the international community in repatriating the Rohingya against the background of dwindling international aid for them. And it is in that background that China has taken the role of mediator regarding the repatriation of Rohingya. They have already twice attempted experimental or pilot repatriation but it has not been successful. Now there is talk of starting this experimental repatriation again before December. However, human rights organisations and various UN agencies have said that an environment for safe and dignified repatriation has not been created in Myanmar. Various organisations of Rohingyas have also opposed the repatriation without recognition of citizenship.

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