During his visit to Bangladesh, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Philip Grandi urged the international community to provide sustained and predictable support to Rohingya refugees staying in Bangladesh.
“The world must remember the crisis that the Rohingya refugees and their hosts have been facing for five years. The refugee life depend on how the international community responds by taking care of them,” Grandi said.
During his five-day visit to Bangladesh in May, Grandi met with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Foreign Minister Abdul Momen. Importantly, he visited refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar and on the island of Bhasan Char.
With the Russian invasion of Ukraine triggering an exodus of Ukrainian refugees and the worsening Afghan refugee crisis, there are fears that international donor attention may be diverted from the needs of the Rohingya refugees.
“So far, we have benefited from donor support. But I’m a bit worried,” Grandi said. Not only does international donor support “need more now because of [the situation in] Bhasan Char” but also “with Ukraine and Afghanistan and many other competing crises, we fight for draw [for Bangladesh].”
Bangladesh expected Grandi’s visit to lead to increased Rohingya repatriation to Myanmar and increased financial support for its refugee-care efforts. This does not happen.
It was with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and the resulting economic turmoil around the world that the Rohingya funding crisis began. The Humanitarian Aid Fund tear down from 75% of needs in 2017 to 65% in 2020. The reduced availability of funding is likely to hamper the refugee management system already in place in the camps, which provides refugees with education, food rations, accommodation and sanitary facilities.
According to Human Rights Watch, “Bangladesh authorities have in recent months have intensified their restrictions on the livelihoods, movement and education of Rohingya refugees.” The The government of Bangladesh has denied these allegations.
Some reports warn that the lack of funding for the outcome could lead them to engage in extortion, prostitution, illegal drug trafficking, etc. This could trigger conflicts between different Rohingya groups and domestic violence.
Several Rohingya have left the camps and risked their lives to make sea voyages to Malaysia or Indonesia. Over the past two years, according to police, more than 2,400 Rohingya have been trafficked by sea. Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, executive director of the Coastal Association for Social Transformation Trust, pointed out that since the Rohingya crisis is “protracted”, it “has created huge frustration among Rohingya people. Many of them are get involved in criminal activities and leave the camps.” Migration and displacement expert Asif Munier said: “Rohingya men, especially teenagers and 20-year-olds, are vulnerable to terrorism and crimebecause they are unemployed.
Bangladesh, already the most densely populated country in the world, hosts more than one million refugees. In addition to the economic burden that refugees place on host countries, there are other costs too; it leads to conflicts between host communities and refugees over employment, the destruction of forests for firewood, control of drug trafficking and prostitution. Scholars also draw attention to how refugee flows are creating demographic imbalances and triggering security threats to the region.
The three main actors working together on refugee issues are the refugee’s country of origin, the host country and the international community. Refugees can be repatriated, integrated or resettled, but in the case of the Rohingya, neither of these approaches has seen progress.
In January 2022, the government of Bangladesh and the junta of Myanmar resumed repatriation talks after a year. However, the junta was willing to take back only 700 Rohingya out of an estimated 1.2 million refugees population in the first stage. Over the past four months, no refugees have been repatriated. In May 2022, Minister of State for Disaster Management and Relief Enamur Rahman said there had been no visible progress in Rohingya repatriation.
Does Bangladesh follow the Bhutanese model of dealing with refugees?
Bhutan has forced almost a hundred thousand people of Nepali origin to leave the country. They sought refuge in Nepal. When Nepal and Bhutan engaged in repatriation talks, Bhutan has imposed many conditions to have them checked. Eventually, Nepal was unable to repatriate them. The UNHCR then resettled them to countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States.
Another obstacle to Rohingya repatriation is that refugees are afraid to return home. I argued in another article in The Diplomat that the Rohingya were not confident about the security situation in Myanmar, mainly because of citizenship laws that disenfranchise them. Therefore, building trust is a must for voluntary repatriation.
The international community can help solve refugee problems by pushing Myanmar to take back its Rohingyas and by assisting with resettlement in third countries as it did in the case of Bhutanese refugees in Nepal.
The United States has done well declare the persecution of the Rohingya as a genocide. However, China and Russia are not cooperating in this endeavor due to geopolitical realities. It is important to note that no real effort has been made to resettle Rohingya refugees in third countries. On the contrary, some are still pushing for integration of Rohingyas with the host country.
Thus, it seems that a divided international community, the Rohingyas’ lack of confidence in returning home and a stricter control of returning refugees applied by the junta are delaying the repatriation of Rohingyas.