Rohingyas: the illusion of return

- through Fabrice Groult

Published on

Analysis of the inextricable situation of Rohingya refugees in Burma and Bangladesh.

On August 22, 2019, at 9 a.m., around fifteen buses and trucks parked near the entrance to one of the camps that house 1,2 million refugees. rohingya (including 683 children) in southern Bangladesh, a stone's throw from the Burmese border. They are ready to embark 000 refugees – 3 families – who have been selected to be part of a first contingent of returnees to Burma (Myanmar) under an agreement between Naypyidaw and Dhaka. The press is present as well as Burmese and Chinese diplomats, Beijing having imposed itself as an intermediary in this process. At 450 p.m., the vehicles leave… empty. None of the candidates for the return finally agreed to take their place. "We can't force them to return, repatriation to their country is totally their business and clearly they haven't been convinced enough," said Mohammad Abul Kalam, Bangladesh's refugee commissioner. “The Myanmar government raped us and killed us, we need security; without security we will never go back”, adds Nosima a Rohingya leader quoted by the Northern Irish radio RTE.

Rohingyas, first concentration of refugees in the world

Since more than 750 Rohingyas - Sunni Muslims living in western Myanmar - fled their villages in 000 to join hundreds of thousands of their co-religionists in camps in neighboring Bangladesh, this is the second attempt to partial repatriation – the first took place in November 2017 – which is organized and which fails.

All surveys conducted by the United Nations and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) prove that most Rohingya refugees have only one wish: to return to their villages. But not at any price. "They have made it clear that they would rather suffer deprivation in their refugee camps in Bangladesh than risk returning to Myanmar in the near future," reports the NGO Physicians for Human Rights, which has interviewed dozens of people. The two countries concerned, Bangladesh and Burma, reject responsibility for these two failed attempts, thus revealing contradictory interests.

“The Myanmar government raped us and killed us, we need security, without security we will never return. Nosima, Rohingya leader

Bangladesh has been praised for its efforts in hosting this huge population which constitutes the largest concentration of refugees in the world. Its inhabitants have instead shown sympathy towards these people who are victims of one of the worst campaigns of repression and human rights violations in contemporary history and which, according to a United Nations report, are crimes against humanity, war crimes and possibly genocide. After the chaos of the first few months, the camps are well organized. As the International Crisis Group (ICG) points out, “a major humanitarian operation by local and international groups successfully responded to immediate priorities (…) Basic needs – food, water, sanitation, shelter and basic health services – are now in place. »

However, signs of impatience are beginning to appear among the authorities, the media and the Bangladeshi population. The camps are increasingly handed over to the law of mafia groups who intend to take advantage of the financial windfall of international aid. The struggle for their control by groups with political or religious aspirations has created a climate of insecurity against which the local authorities are powerless. Without counting a strong demographic pressure which continues to worsen. According to the NGO Save the Children, 60 children are born every day in the camps, that is to say in two years nearly 45 babies! “In two years, the empathy of Bangladeshis for the Rohingyas has faded, wrote in August 000 an editorialist for the Dhaka tribune. Now the whole nation sees them as a burden and wants a permanent solution to this crisis. »

An impossible return

While each actor in this drama – refugees, host and home countries, international stakeholders – subscribes to this desire for a “permanent solution”, the major obstacle comes from its definition by Burma. The soothing declarations and promises of the Burmese authorities are contradicted by the reality in the regions of Rakhine State where between 150 and 000 Rohingyas still live. As satellite photos show, the Burmese army continues to destroy Rohingya villages in the north of the state. The rural economy is disrupted, expropriations continue, making life impossible and precipitating several thousand people on the road to exile each month. The abandoned lands are gradually being taken over by new migrants – non-Muslim Burmese, mainly Buddhists -, the developed infrastructure – roads, electricity network – facilitating the movement of the security forces.

These realities support the analysis of many observers on the existence of a well-established strategy of the Burmese authorities. “It is clear that Myanmar's armed forces (…) do not want Muslims to return as strategic planners aim to rebalance the ethnic demographics of the region,” read an editorial in the online newspaper. AsiaTimes. In 2018, General Min Aung Hlaing, head of the army, had himself fueled this theory by making unambiguous remarks and reflecting a widely shared opinion among the Burmese population on these Rohingyas who "have neither the common characteristics or culture with the ethnic groups of Myanmar”.

In this logic, the Burmese authorities have every interest in letting the situation in the camps deteriorate and continuing to refuse to take head on the crucial issues of the safe return of the Rohingyas and their naturalization.

"Bangladesh is concerned about the emergence of a global consensus on the likelihood that most refugees will not return home in the foreseeable future," concludes the ICG.

photo of author

Fabrice Groult

Fabrice Groult is an adventurer, photographer and Buddhist who has traveled the world since a young age. After studying Buddhism in India, he embarked on an eighteen-month journey through Asia that took him to the Himalayas, where he discovered his passion for photography. Since then, he has traveled the world capturing images of Buddhist beauty and wisdom. He was a guide for ten years, and is now a journalist with Buddhist News.

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