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Rohingyas Should Not Get a Wrong Message

31 Aug 2019, 01:17 ( 23 days ago)

By Professor Abdul Mannan
Professor Abdul Mannan. DF Photo.

Two years back when the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine province (the military junta renamed it as Arakan) began to enter Bangladesh in thousands to escape a planned genocide and ethnic cleansing in the province by the Myanmar army and fundamentalist Buddhists under the monk Ashin Wirathu, the people of south Chattogram in Cox’s Bazaar and Teknaf welcomed them with open arms and shared their home and food till they were relocated to amps specially made for them. Many of the camps existed in the area for decades as the exodus of the Rakhine Muslims began in the mid seventies, none returning to their homeland where they had been living for hundreds of years.

The Myanmar army, with the help of the fundamentalist Buddhist (commonly known as Theravada) rogues, was executing their age old policy of ‘Burma for Burmans’ – an extreme form of Buddhist nationalism. Anyone who did not believe in fundamentalist Buddhism was not considered as a Burmese. Every person born has a Buddhist name irrespective of religion or faith. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina while visiting the Rohingya camps in 2017 were moved by the wretched plight of the Rohingyas and announced that she will do her best to give shelter to these hapless refugees and showed her magnanimity when she announced ‘when we can feed 160 million people we can feed extra six hundred thousand mouths’ (currently the number has more than doubled).

The humane gesture shown by the people of south Chattogram and the Prime Minister was hailed by the global community including the United Nations. Today the same Rohingyas are considered as ungrateful parasites by the same people of Chattogram because of their behaviour and the indifference of the global community towards them. The global community, including the UN has failed to compel the Myanmar’s military junta and the government that they should take back their people and give them the same rights as given to the other citizens of Myanmar. Out of desperation and manipulation by some local and international NGOs and ineffective government administration in the area, the Rohingyas have begun behaving like lawless mobs disregarding the sympathy shown to them by the people of the area and the government.

Since the arrival of these unwanted guests Presidents and Prime Ministers, Princess and politicians from different countries and important officials from UN and other international bodies and diplomats and foreign dignitaries including celebrities from many countries have visited the Rohingya camps, sympathised with them and praised Sheikh Hasina and her government and the people for their humanitarian gestures shown to the Rohingya refuges. But things just stopped there and not a single Head of the State or the Government of any country declared that they will take few dozen refugees with them for resettlement in their own country.

Rohingya refugees who were forced to leave their country by Myanmar security forces arrived in Bangladesh to save their lives. Photo Mostafizur Rahman.The UN as usual again proved that it is nothing but an impotent talking club of few powerful countries and today no international problem could be solved through its intervention. It proved that the military junta of Myanmar with the support of few other countries has managed to put the UN in its pocket and continues with their act of genocide and ethnic cleansing activities uprooting the hapless Rohingyas. Today the entire province of Rakhine lies barren, houses and entire villages ravaged by the military and the local thugs. The Rohingyas only demanded equal rights and citizenship like all other citizens of Myanmar which they enjoyed till 1982 when the military junta enacted the controversial Citizenship Law depriving not only the Muslims of Rakhine province of their birth right but also of many other ethnic communities.

Till 1962 the then Burma was economically and socially one of the most prosperous nation in South Asia. It had rich deposits of oil and gas, various minerals, precious stones and gems, timber and forest products and hydropower, and was very rich in agro products. It had the highest literacy rate and per-capita income and the people’s quality of life was enviable by any standard of the region. Then the army took over the rule of the country by overthrowing the elected civilian government and turned the table for good.

Today the Myanmar army is one of the most corrupt armies in the world. People saw hope in Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of the celebrated national hero of Burma Aung San who fought for the independence of his country from the British rule. He was assassinated in 1947. His daughter Aung San Suu Kyi who lived in London for most part of her life with her family came to visit her dying mother in Yangon in 1988 when the country was going through a civilian movement to restore democracy. Unfortunately, the people had no leader to lead them. They approached Aung San Suu Kyi for giving leadership in the movement which she reluctantly did. Soon she was arrested by the military junta.

Overnight Suu Kyi became ‘Daughter of Democracy’ to the world and they even bestowed upon her the once prestigious Nobel Prize for Peace. It was another example of how a prestigious international award was wasted on the wrong person, Suu Kyi. She on her release from captivity in November of 2010 ran for the election in 2015 and won to form the government. But the change in the political culture of Myanmar remained as it was. Suu Kyi was just another pawn in the hands of military junta and the genocide and ethnic cleansing in the country continued, this time under the shadow of a military government.

Today most of Myanmar is controlled by different insurgent groups comprised of Christians, liberal Buddhist and people of other faiths. According to international sources, currently there are nine active armed insurgent groups, seventeen are in the ceasefire mode, and twenty are defunct of which two were formed by Arakanese (ARIF and Mujahedeen). Whatever is happening to the general ethnic minority group of Myanmar the world turns a blind eye towards them. The powerful nations are more interested in their economic and political gains rather than the trampled humanity in Myanmar.

Two years after the current exodus of the Rohingyas from Rakhine into Bangladesh, the situation now seems to be getting worse and the people who once were welcomed by the locals and the government of Bangladesh now want them to be thrown out. The government currently has to spend US$ 300 million per month for the Rohingyas. Initially, the UN and some international agencies and countries pledged to provide relief supplies and money to feed and provide shelter to the Rohingya refugees but unfortunately what was pledged much of it did never come.

Rohingyas have ravaged and destroyed the entire natural habitat of the region and have managed to transform the camps into safe haven of crimes that includes drug peddling and human trafficking.

Few attempts were made by the Bangladesh government to solve the problem with bi-lateral discussion with Myanmar government, the only major demand was giving them the citizenship right which they always enjoyed but the Myanmar government was unwilling to accept the demand. They even disregarded the UN prescriptions on this issue.  Myanmar was defiant.

Aung San Suu Kyi formed a Commission with the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan as the Commission head. The Commission submitted a report prescribing a four point solution to the problem that included the solution of citizenship issue. Again Aung San Suu Kyi stubbornly refused to accept the report on junta creating flimsy excuses. Bangladesh took the issue to UN but again some big powers would not take any step that would anger their ally Myanmar as their economic interest would be affected.

To help the Rohingya refugees along with the UNHCR and Red Cross many national and international NGO’s entered the Rohingya camps in the Teknaf, Ukiah, Kutupalong and the adjoining areas. Not all came with holy intention. For some it was a self interest as in the name of relief their personal economic gain always took priority. Some came with the intention of being part of drug and human trafficking and for that they always had willing people with political powers and connections with the local government officials.

But what is most alarming is that there are NGOs operating here whose sole intention is to create insurgent groups to disturb the peace in the adjoining countries which not only includes Bangladesh but also India, China and Thailand. These NGOs have not only have connections with local fundamentalist political parties but there are allegations that some of these are funded by the notorious military intelligence agency of Pakistan, the ISI.

Currently there are 123 NGO’s that operates inside these Rohingya camps out of which 102 are local and a good number of them have connection with Jamaat-e-Islami, a political party of religious fundamentalists and anti-liberation force in Bangladesh. The number of Madrasas opened by these NGOs in the camps multiplies geometrically every month and these madrasas provide a good platform for training future militants. Recently the law enforcing agencies have confiscated about six hundred and fifty sharp home made weapons from a blacksmith’s shop in Kutupalong. It was found out that an NGO ordered the blacksmith to produce five thousand of such weapons. It just simply gives an idea how dangerous the situation is becoming in silence.

On last Sunday, the day of second anniversary of the current exodus about five to seven hundred thousand Rohingyas gathered in the Kutupalong camp, many of them carrying sharp weapons. Though it seemed peaceful but in reality it was a challenge to the Bangladesh government when they in unequivocal terms announced that they will not return to Myanmar if their demands are not met. It was not a plea but a challenge and a direct threat to the government of Bangladesh which should not go unchallenged. Strangely the administration announced that they were not aware of such a gathering. It was a naïve statement.

Bangladesh has so far been very accommodative and its humanitarian gesture shown to them is unparallel by any standard. Perhaps that has been wrongly interpreted as weakness of the government by the Rohingyas. Now it is time to establish government control over all the camps beginning with throwing out all the NGOs excepting the UNHCR, IOM and the Red Cross. Before allowing any other NGOs to enter the camps a thorough security clearance should be taken from all security agencies of the government including the Special Branch, the DGFI and NSI. All camps should be equipped with sufficient number of Close Circuit cameras and flood lights and there must be 24 hour monitoring of all the movements inside the camps. Control towers and security offices should be established at regular intervals. A night time curfew should be imposed outside the camp perimeter.

Many would argue that such measures will transform the refugee camps into concentration centres. It may seem so but at no cost should anyone be allowed to challenge the sovereignty and authority of the country. Many Rohingyas are travelling abroad with Bangladeshi passports. How is this possible if the local government functionaries are not involved? Every perpetrator must be punished in especially set up summary courts and how the rally of last Sunday happened without the knowledge of the local administration must be enquired into. Though some would like to term the rally not a big issue, in reality it is a big issue. Such issues one day will be a cause of alarm for the entire nation. Once, the Palestinians gave refuge to Jews of Europe in good faith. They shared their homes and food with them. Today the same Palestinians have become refugees in their own land. We do not want a 21st century new Palestine in the making.

Bangladesh has tried to solve the issue through diplomatic means. Perhaps it was not enough. Its efforts must continue and special attention must be given to some friendly countries like Russia, India, Japan and China. The problem must be solved not only for the interest of Bangladesh but also for their interest too, national security being the top priority followed by the issue of natural justice and humanitarian causes. Time is running out. A stitch in time will save nine.

Notes: The writer is a commentator and an analyst. He is also former Chairman of University Grants Commission and a former Vice-Chancellor, University of Chittagong, Bangladesh.