As of 16th November, a clear shift away from Rohingya repatriation efforts can be evidenced. Following months of outcry by Rohingya refugees and strong critiques of repatriation plans and negotiations by Rohingya leaders, high-level human rights agencies, and not-for-profits- Bangladesh has indeed heeded the concerns expressed. Prior to arriving at this understanding, the official Bangladeshi rhetoric vied strongly for repatriation, somewhat ignorantly so of the Rohingya voice. However, the clear turn can be strongly evidenced through the statements of “Abul Kalam, the Bangladeshi refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, [who posited] that a new course of action needed to be adopted on repatriation that took into account refugees’ key demands.” Albeit, not official, as it “was later clarified that these were his own personal views and not of the government,” it is nonetheless very promising, as a stepping stone paving the way forward.
Officials at the highest rungs, such as Michelle Bachelet, UN high commissioner for human rights echo the concerns addressed by Mr. Kalam, however, couched in more so formalistic legal terms. Michelle Bachelet has assertively “urged Bangladesh to halt the repatriation plans, saying that such violated International law.” Of note to the national fora, are the firm statements of “Bangladeshi Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood [who] told reporters in Dhaka… that… ‘there is no question of forcible repatriation. We gave them shelter, so why should we send them back forcibly?”’
Repatriation, as within the contours of international refugee law, encompasses the elements of voluntariness and the ability to re-establish oneself in the country being returned to. Thus, in light of severe violence purposefully directed towards the Rohingya by military forces, the overarching morally bankrupt landscape of Rakhine state, coupled further with Myanmar’s lack of accountability for the atrocities committed- reason and logic would forewarn against repatriation efforts. Thus, in critiquing the situation, with objectivity in hand, it appears not only superficial but to an extent absurd that talks and a move for repatriation are on the agenda.
Bangladesh is a developing country, with pressing needs and issues of its own. However, the Rohingya influx appears manageable, particularly with the injections of funds from the World Bank. That said, in striving to present a balanced dissection of the matter, it is important to note the voice of Bangladeshi citizens, albeit not as a yardstick for all. Here, the Telegraph (UK) reports that this vie for repartition, at the micro level is fuelled by fears, anxieties, and securities regarding the future. As such, it was reported that “Many Bangladeshis feel their small, overpopulated country should not be bearing the burden of an extra million people in one of its poorest regions.” Whereas, at the macro level, political powerplay could be construed as a contributing factor that has driven the rhetoric for return. Here, Alam and Schmall, writing for Time online, report that “Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who hope to retain power in December elections, has repeatedly complained that hosting more than a million Rohingya is taxing local resources.”
In concluding remarks, the situation is not exactly straightforward, with arguably valid arguments at both ends. However, colloquially speaking, when looking at the bigger picture, Rohingya repatriation is not a viable option, at all, in the present and nor will it be in the near future. With pragmatism at hand, it is thus important that the Bangladeshi government explore and devise plans such as the move to Bhasan Char Island, which aim to secure the life and liberty of this persecuted minority group within Bangladeshi borders. Further, possibly, thought ought to be also be directed at how mobilizing the labour of Rohingya could promulgate and thus contribute positively to the Bangladeshi economy.
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