See More on Facebook

Analysis, Opinion

Of hopes, half-measures, and the hell that awaits Rohingyas

As the Rohingya crisis enters its seventh month, chances of it ending in a peaceful manner are quickly evaporating.


Written by

Updated: March 6, 2018

Even staunch believers in what the UN Secretary General António Guterres offered as a solution—“a safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of refugees to their areas of origin or choice”—are not so sure this will be the case in the end. In the past six months, things have gone from bad to worse. The Rohingyas continue to trickle into Bangladesh, haunted by their memories of violence, rape, torture, and forced starvation. According to the latest estimate, the number of Rohingyas now living in Bangladesh is 11,12,895, which is close to the population of Trinidad and Tobago combined.

As the Rohingyas grapple with the sheer irony of ongoing efforts for repatriation amidst continued influx of new batches of refugees, the question that is being asked in some quarters is: does Bangladesh really have a say in what is going on? Phrased differently, does Bangladesh stand a chance against a foe with such powerful friends?

The Nobel trio—Shirin Ebadi from Iran, Mairead Maguire from Northern Ireland, and Tawakkol Karman from Yemen—came as beacons of hope who want us to believe that Bangladesh is not alone in this fight. After visiting refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, the trio looked visibly shaken. They addressed fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, as “our sister”—bringing a personal touch into a fight that found them at cross-purposes—before imploring her to “wake up” to the reality and stop the genocide. They also called for the prosecution of those responsible for it at the International Criminal Court.

Mairead Maguire, speaking to a packed audience in Dhaka on February 28, also shed light on the bigger picture. With so much hate and anger resulting in meaningless conflicts around, “is there any hope in the world today?” She praised Bangladesh for being an inspiration in this regard, opening its doors to the helpless Rohingyas and providing them with shelter, food and water.

The zeal and sincerity with which these great luminaries of global human rights activism are campaigning for the cause of Rohingyas are heartening to watch. In the coming days, with the number of press trips likely thinning and the international community finding more pressing issues to deal with, these are the voices we will need to keep the issue alive. Bangladesh has sought and obtained support from quite a number of countries, world leaders and powerful rights campaigners, but as developments on the ground show, their cumulative effect didn’t amount to more than funds for the refugees which, while hugely important, do not help the end game. Myanmar continues to be in denial, and as emboldened as the first day when it launched its latest campaign. Which, again, begs the question: what can Bangladesh do in the face of such reckless hate and against a country backed by powerful regional players?

Mairead Maguire has a simple solution: one phone call from the right party can stop the massacre and create the right conditions for the return of refugees. But in all likelihood, the right parties aren’t going to do that. Charles Santiago, chair, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), posits that “investment opportunities” that Myanmar today offers, thanks to easing of trade and other economic sanctions following the (marginal) reinstatement of democracy in the country, will make doing anything contrary to its interests very difficult.

“A lot of countries see Myanmar as an investment opportunity,” said Charles Santiago in an interview with Al Jazeera, adding “they do not want to rock the boat at the international level,” call the Myanmar army to account for their action, or even question or criticise Aung San Suu Kyi. As a result, apart from perfunctory lamentations and routine talks about military sanctions by some countries and blocs, there has been no real action in these six months. No one, not even Bangladesh, is talking about economic sanctions, which could play a key role in making Myanmar backpedal on its hate campaign. The country’s deployment of troops on Thursday near the Bangladesh border is another indication of just how emboldened it has become.

On the contrary, Bangladesh, despite having a few geostrategic advantages of its own, has either failed to exploit them or those were simply dwarfed by the enormous trade and investment benefits that Myanmar is offering in exchange for silence regarding its activities. Either way, for Bangladesh, there are bigger things at stake here than the Rohingya issue. The country is involved with China, India, and Russia (viewed as key players in the Rohingya issue)—and even Myanmar, to some extent—in a number of ways including trade, security and infrastructure. Cutting ties or putting any kind of restriction on them to get more mileage in this particular issue is not an option for Bangladesh. What complicates the situation is that the revenues and privileges that Myanmar obtain from its trade relations and aid and other services from pro-democracy quarters eventually benefit its military. Even in democracy, Myanmar cannot be seen in isolation from its military apparatus.

As heart-wrenching as the Rohingya case may be, Bangladesh needs to understand that no one is going to hand it a solution on a silver platter. It needs to work for it and work double time considering the huge socioeconomic cost of having an extra million people on its soil. The priority, therefore, is to strengthen diplomatic ties while aggressively advancing its geopolitical interests through greater regional and international collaboration to make its voice heard, and its legitimate demands fulfilled. This, however, is not an easy task but as Maguire stressed, “militarism and paramilitarism do not work as a solution.” The lasting solution, she said, lies in dialogue, negotiation and cooperation.

Speaking of dialogue, even Bangladesh has some listening to do. The repatriation deal that the country signed with Myanmar on November 23, 2017 was reached without prior consultation with the Rohingya refugees, who have a right to engage in negotiations over their fate. As I pointed out in a column on January 1, “details [of the deal] remain vague on several key aspects such as the rights that would be granted to the Rohingyas, how their safety will be ensured in a country with raging anti-Muslim sentiment, and locations for resettlement. Also, what guarantee is there that there will not be another security crackdown or forced exodus to Bangladesh next year, or the year after?” Anything that happens to these people after repatriation will be on Bangladesh’s conscience. Bangladesh still has time to consider rescinding this deal in favour of a more inclusive solution with greater international involvement.

One thing is clear, this deal is not a response to Myanmar’s policy of making Rakhine uninhabitable for the Rohingya community, which has been identified as the central motive behind its decades-long anti-Rohingya campaign. We need to work on that for our own benefit, rather than expecting a miraculous solution.

(This article was written by Bandiuzzaman Bay and originally appeared in the Daily Star)



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


ANN Members
About the Author: Asia News Network is a regional media alliance comprising 24 media entities.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Analysis, Opinion

What does Vietnam’s new cyber law mean for online dissent?

Will Facebook kowtow to the Vietnamese government to keep its market share. Facebook is in violation of a Vietnamese new cybersecurity law by allowing its users to post content critical of the communist government on its platform, the Ministry of Information and Communication announced on Wednesday of last week. The news came just days after the law went into effect on Jan. 1. The new legislation requires internet companies to comply with government demands to remove user-posted material it doesn’t like. The law also stipulates that information technology companies—Facebook and Google for instance—may be required to set up local offices and store customer data domestically, a feature which human rights advocates worry might make it easier for the government to track and charge dissidents for their online activities. This new legislation follows a pattern of increasing digital scrutiny by th


By Quinn Libson
January 15, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Seat belt warning as storm clouds loom in 2019

A look at potential headlines in 2019 by the Straits Times’ Warren Fernandez. You have been here before. As you settle into your comfortable seat for the long flight ahead, a voice crackles from the cockpit. “Our flying time today will be 12 hours, 40 minutes, and we expect a smooth journey ahead, but there looks to be some pockets of turbulence along the way,” your captain says, sounding vaguely assuring. “We suggest you keep your seat-belt on.” So was said on my recent Singapore Airlines flight home from holidaying abroad. It prompted several hours of meandering musings from 30,000 feet in the air about what lies ahead in the New Year. Some of the storm clouds that appear to loom on the political horizon include: 1. US-China: rivalries among frenemies Three recent developments sum up the precarious state of relations between the world’s two main powers, now on a tentative


By The Straits Times
January 7, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Previewing Sheikh Hasina’s fourth term

A unanimous poll decision leaves Sheikh Hasina with many decisions to make. It is the huge gaps in the numbers of votes polled by the winners and the losers in the 11th national election that apparently unveiled a “controlled and patterned” nature of the process of polls. A foreign media commentator wondered why any “control” was exercised over BNP activists since the announcement of election schedule in September last. In his opinion, the ruling coalition or Mahajote contestants would have won by a handsome margin without keeping BNP workers at bay anyway! More so when the BNP was waffling and unprepared! In fact, a hundred BNP candidates’ deposits have been forfeited as they couldn’t even secure one-tenth of their adversaries’ tally. In BNP’s last election debacle when they had around 30 seats, deposits of only 10 contestants were forfeited. But I have


By Daily Star
January 4, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Afghan war helped Pakistan keep nuclear option: US papers

US backing for anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan may have enabled the Pakistan bomb. Torn between preventing Pakistan from going nuclear and fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, the United States appears to have decided that pushing the Russians out of Kabul was more important, shows a set of documents released by the US State Department. Official US memos and letter — released under an arrangement to make public official documents after 30 years — show that Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (in office from 1978 to 1989) also played a key role in convincing Washington to continue to support Islamabad despite its nuclear programme. Timeline: History of US-Pakistan relations A confidential State Department report, dated Aug 20, 1984, shows that by 1984 Washington knew Islamabad had acquired the


By Dawn
December 24, 2018

Analysis, Opinion

What caused the Sunda Strait tsunami?

A volcanic eruption may have been the cause of the cataclysmic event. Questions still abound about what caused the tsunami that hit beaches in Lampung and Banten on Saturday night, killing at least 168 and injuring 750. The lack of a powerful earthquake or strong volcanic eruption caused the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) to initially announce that the waves did not constitute a tsunami but were instead caused by high tide. “The BMKG has not recorded any earthquake occurring tonight. What happened in Anyer [Banten] and the surrounding area was not a tsunami, but a tidal wave. There is also a full moon tonight, which causes high tidal waves. Stay calm,” the BMKG stated on its Twitter account on Saturday night, in a tweet that has since been deleted. It was only discovered hours later that the tide was three meter high, and potentially caused by volcanic activity of Mou


By The Jakarta Post
December 24, 2018

Analysis, Opinion

Bangladesh most gender equal country in South Asia

Close behind is Sri Lanka at second place with Pakistan lagging far behind. For the fourth time in a row, Bangladesh held the top position among South Asian countries in ensuring gender equality. The country has slipped only one notch down to the 48th position among 149 countries worldwide, but is still ahead of all other countries in Asia except the Philippines, according to World Economic Forum’s ‘The Global Gender Gap Report 2018’ published on Monday. “Bangladesh consolidates its position as the region’s top performer and breaks into the top five in the global index on the Political Empowerment sub-index this year, recording progress on closing its political gender gap, despite a widening gender gap in terms of labour force participation,” said the report. Its South Asian neighbours on the index are Sri Lanka, ranked 100th, Nepal ranked 105th, India ranked 1


By Daily Star
December 20, 2018