Following a failed attempt to repatriate Rohingya refugees to Myanmar last month, Bangladesh has started mounting pressure on the persecuted community.
A top Bangladeshi official told Anadolu Agency that Dhaka might be inflexible in addressing the Rohingya crisis in the future and lambasted the international community for showing “less interest” to help resolve the Rohingya issue.
“Until now, they [the international community] have failed to visit those villages in Rakhine state [in western Myanmar] from where Rohingya people fled, but they are randomly working in Bangladesh without any interruption. Ignoring existing law and norms some, NGOs and aid agencies are infiltrating Rohingya to stay in Bangladesh. We must be harder against this,” Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh’s state minister for foreign affairs, told Anadolu Agency.
Alam said the host country must have the right to follow its “rules and regulations” in sheltering over a million refugees.
“Bangladesh is an independent and sovereign country, but we have challenges in maintaining our own law and order. If we have any issues arising from them [Rohingya], we must take a tougher stance,” Alam said.
Following a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017, Bangladesh opened its door to the persecuted people.
According to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA), nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces while more than 34,000 Rohingya were thrown into fires and over 114,000 others were beaten.
Some 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police and over 115,000 Rohingya homes were burned down and 113,000 others vandalized, the report said.
In September 2017, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar and expressed sympathy to the refugees.
“Our houses were also burnt down in 1971 [during liberation war]. Our people fled to India when they had nowhere to go. So, we are doing everything in our power to help the Rohingya,” She told media after visiting a Rohingya camp on Sept. 12, 2017.
On Sept. 14, 2017, Hasina said in the country’s parliament: “If needed, we will share our food and only then we will have our food.”
In response to the outstanding generosity showed by Hasina, U.K.-based Channel 4 dubbed her “Mother of Humanity”.
But, following the failure of the Aug. 22, 2019 initiative of repatriating 3,450 Rohingya to Myanmar, Bangladesh seemingly changed its stance.
The displaced community demanded citizenship rights and a safety guarantee in the presence of the international community before being resettled in their original places in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, from where they fled.
Within one week, Bangladesh barred 41 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from undertaking any activity in the Rohingya camps, accusing them of being involved in “malpractices”.
The country also imposed a ban on operations of two international NGOs in Cox’s Bazar, accusing them of “secretly assisting” the Aug. 25, 2019 rally of Rohingya in which more than 200,000 refugees took part to commemorate the second anniversary of “Rohingya Genocide Day”.
Mohib Ullah, a Rohingya leader, issued a video message, urging the local and international media to refrain from portraying their peaceful rally negatively. “We are ready to return [to Myanmar] given our dignity, safety and rights are guaranteed,” he said.
Moreover, Mohammad Abul Kalam, head of Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission, along with seven top officials of the commission were also replaced following the rally.
Earlier this month, the Bangladeshi government ordered a ban on mobile phone services and selling of SIM cards at the refugee camps, an attempt to push hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to a communications blackout.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh army has proposed for setting up barbed wire fences around the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar on “security grounds”.
“This proposal has been raised in different government meetings based on a clear need,” Lt. Col. Md Abdullah Ibn Zayed, director of Bangladesh Army’s media wing, told Anadolu Agency.
On Sept. 4, the Bangladeshi military reported in a meeting that out of 1.2 million Rohingya refugees in 31 makeshift camps, there are 400,000 children — aged between 12 and 17 — who are not receiving any education and are posing threat not only to the country but to the entire region.
“Given the opportunity, they [children] will spread across the country [Bangladesh] and international terrorist organizations may try to use them to serve their interests,” Lt. Gen. Mahfuzur Rahman, an army official, was quoted as saying by the Daily Star.
Dozens of Rohingya have reportedly been arrested across the country in recent weeks as the authorities accused them of acquiring Bangladeshi passports and nationality identification cards illegally.
Call for lifting restrictions
Bangladesh’s new measures will seemingly harm Hasina’s “Mother of Humanity” image among the international community.
In a recent statement, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Bangladesh government to “end restrictions on Rohingya refugees’ freedom of movement and access to the internet and online communications.”
Rezwan Siddiqui, a senior journalist, opined that Bangladesh would not be able to keep 1.2 million Rohingya for long.
“If Bangladesh now tries to absorb those 1.2 million Rohingya in its land for long, India would try to push 1.7 million non-registered Bengalis from its Assam province, whom India has recently labeled as illegal Bangladeshis,” Siddiqui told Anadolu Agency.
However, a Rohingya advocacy group consider the recent measures a ploy of Bangladesh government to shift the refugees to a remote island on the Bay of Bengal.
“Bangladeshi government should put pressure on Myanmar to facilitate a peaceful environment for Rohingya repatriation, rather than pressuring the refugees,” said N.R. Abdur Rashid, secretary-general of the Rohingya Solidarity Organization.
Bangladesh has built shelters for around 100,000 Rohingya in Bashan Char, a recently emerged inhabitant island around 40 kilometers (25 miles) off the nearest shore in the southern Bangladeshi district of Noakhali.
The planned resettlement of Rohingya was postponed due to criticism and pressure on the government by local and international rights groups.