Bangladesh has accepted more than a million displaced Rohingya. But now, as economic conditions deteriorate and discontent grows, Dhaka is in a difficult position.
Approximately five years have passed since the violent persecution of Rohingyas by Myanmar authorities and the consequent influx of refugees to Bangladesh. The government of Bangladesh has provided the Rohingyas safety and sanctuary, at a time when the anti-refugee sentiment was at its greatest in much of Europe, and other neighbouring countries turned their back on the Rohingyas’ plight. The protracted inhabitation of Rohingya in Bangladesh has triggered a slew of detrimental consequences for Bangladesh. Despite this, Bangladesh remains unwavering in its support for the Rohingyas, even when international nonchalance towards the refugee is palpable.
The international community has grown visibly apathetic towards the Rohingya’s predicament as other pressing international crises in Afghanistan and Ukraine have transfixed the world’s attention, and consequently led them to disregard the anguish of one of the most persecuted communities in the world. The funding provided by other states to assist the Rohingya refugees has considerably dwindled. This is evidently at odds with the “burden-sharing principle” that is supposed to underpin the international response to the crisis.
The Joint Response Plan
The funding for the Rohingya crisis is outlined in the Joint Response Plan (JRP), a scheme that is renewed every year. The plan is spearheaded by Bangladesh and the country mobilises approximately 136 partners, of which 74 represents Bangladeshi organisations. The JRP for 2022 has sought more than US $881 million to support around 1.4 million people, including refugees and host communities. The Bangladesh government partners with an array of national and international NGOs in ensuring the proper implementation of the JRP, while the prominent donors for the program includes countries such as Germany, Australia, the United States and Kuwait.
However, the fund mobilisation of the preceding years had been dismal, on the heels of a concatenation of international crises – namely COVID-19 induced economic stagnation, supply chain disruption, and the crisis in Afghanistan. The fund for humanitarian assistance that hovered around 72 and 75 percent of the aggregate spending the first three years since 2017, diminished to 65 percent in 2020, as the crisis was increasingly obscured and deprioritised by the international community.
Bangladesh’s economy is also grappling with rising inflation. After successfully controlling inflation for several years, Bangladesh’s inflation rate has ballooned to 6.2 percent. This is mostly driven by the price of food and non-food products – as the supply chain of the major international products that Bangladesh procures has been disrupted – due to the twin onslaughts of COVID-19 and the Ukraine crisis.
In this context, supporting the Rohingya for an indefinite period is not feasible for Bangladesh. Donor funding is poised to decline even further in the future and will put an even greater strain on Bangladesh’s economy.
Furthermore, there are not adequate facilities for ensuring education to the Rohingya refugees. This has already been exploited by Hefazat Islami, an infamous political faction, notorious for their destabilising “Siege of Dhaka”, aimed at sabotaging the government in 2013, and for their proclamation of jihad against Myanmar authorities in the wake of persecution of Rohingya. In the vacuum of the formal educational institution for providing education to the Rohingya children, Madrasas propped up by Hefazat Islam have ominously filled the gap in the refugee camps, stoking concerns of future mayhem springing from the camps.
The “Go Home” Movement
In the context of their prolonged deprivation in the camp, severed from their ancestral habitation, a spontaneous movement has recently gained traction among Rohingya – termed as “Go-Home Movement”– which indicates Rohingya’s heightened awareness and aspiration for a sustainable and dignified repatriation. The “Bari Cholo” (Let’s Go Home) campaign spans approximately 23 Rohingya camps, of which 21 are from Ukhiam and two in Teknaf Upazila. The movement champions the safe and dignified repatriation of the Rohingya to their motherland.
They have raised a series of demands at the spontaneous rallies, which includes the initiation of swift resettlement and repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmars, annulling the Citizenship Act of 1982 that stripped Rohingya of their citizenship, ascertaining security and safety of Rohingyas in Myanmar, termination of the camps for IDPs in Rakhine state and halting the persecution of innocent people in Myanmar. Rohingya men and children forged ahead with. Media reports indicate that approximately 10,000 Rohingyas joined protests across 15 camps.
Thus, in the context of dwindling international funding and declining attention for the Rohingya refugee crisis, only two options might mould international response in resolving the crisis – either, increase support for the Rohingya in order to ensure community safety and dignity, or mobilise international pressure in a manner to compel the Myanmar authorities in ensuring conducive condition for the repatriation of refugee, in accordance with zeitgeist of “Go-Home Movement”.
However, the first option is not sustainable, given the sheer number of Rohingya currently inhabiting Bangladesh, which is one of the most populated countries of the world and plagued by its own sets of challenges.
In view of repeated disavowal of the severity of the crisis by Myanmar authorities and the stone-walling tactics with regards to repatriation of the Rohingya, the likelihood of the second option might not seem pragmatic. However, the international pressure to coerce Myanmar to repatriate Rohingyas has been minimal, and often limited to official condemnation and imposition of sanctions. Besides, the alignment of the veto-wielding powers on the question of Rohingya is based on parochial geostrategic calculation, and has precluded any sustainable solution to the predicament. However, if the international community reaches a consensus about the adverse implications of the Rohingya’s plight, and act to safeguard regional peace and security, they will see that repatriation of Rohingya is the only viable solution.
It is true that pressuring neighbouring countries to undertake the responsibility of Rohingya, remains an internationally recognised mechanism to alleviate the burdens of the protracted refugee situation. However, this is far from a sustainable solution. The dispersion of the refugees throughout the region has brought with it an uptick in xenophobia. Pressuring neighbours to accept Rohingya will only accelerate the process. This will generate further antagonism and will further sharpen the rifts between communities based on ethnic fault lines, perpetuating the Rohingya’s predicament.
Moreover, at a time when the funding for the Rohingya is dwindling it is clear that the only sustainable course of action is the safe and dignified repatriation of the Rohingyas through international mechanisms. This will eliminate one of the pressing refugee crises of the world. If the world community, however, fails to resolve the crisis, the grievances and dissatisfaction among a generation of traumatised Rohingya will fester, making them exposed to crime and radical overtures, potentially destabilising the whole region.
Kazi Asszad Hossan is an international affairs researcher, currently affiliated with the Central Foundation for International and Strategic Studies (CFISS). His research interests include South Asian Security, Regionalism and Political Economy.
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