The image of a Rohingya man pleading to be allowed into Bangladesh from Myanmar with folded hands and a weeping face says it all. But what the image doesn’t say is that the family was refused entry and they moved on to another destination, most probably the one they were trying to escape.
These people have suffered severe trauma and have been forced to leave their homes, the decision a human being takes as a last resort to save his/her family and own life.
Bangladesh’s denial to refugees trying to escape death, suffering and humiliation is one of the most hypocritical ones. For a country whose history has been written with refugees playing such a major role, it has denied one of the very chetonas it loves to speak of. And it has ignored its future when millions of Bangladeshis will seek shelter elsewhere as refugees due to the climate change crisis.
It is our shameful hour, one of our more brainless ones too.
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Myanmar is a country which faces many ethnic problems and the large ethnic minorities — Kachins, Karens, etc — were/are at war with the Burman majority. The ethnic issue has been strengthened by religious identity as well since the Burmans are Buddhists and the others are not. This ethnic and religious animosity have bounded together to produce a deadly combination that has made them fight each other to many deaths.
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Relations between the Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims have been uneasy for generations and tension flared recently after the gang rape and murder of a Rakhine Buddhist that was blamed on Muslims.
That led to the killing of 10 Muslims in reprisal when a Buddhist mob stopped a bus they were travelling on. The passengers had no connection to the murdered woman. In fear of life, many Rohingyas have fled.
Neither Myanmar nor Bangladesh has shown that they care much about the Rohingyas.
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Bangladesh’s foreign minister has said, the refugees will not be allowed in and Bangladesh is not a signatory to any such protocol. She has even added to the plot by blaming the Jamaat-e-Islami for the troubles in the Rakhine state. In her rush to be absurd she sounded more like the Myanmar foreign minister defending a situation which slurs a national reputation and not the Bangladesh FM looking for solutions and finding a way out of an international refugee situation which involves Bangladesh.
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In 1971, Bangladeshi refugees were not popular in India but a policy was at work to let us in. It can be argued that it fitted into the grand strategic design of India to split a not very intelligent state of Pakistan so selfish interest was at work not kindness. Of course, it was selfishness but it doesn’t hide the fact that we did get shelter when everything was under threat.
For Bangladesh, the kind of moral platform certificate we would get, by allowing the Rohingyas would have been of great practical value when we are being trashed universally as violators of rights, patrons of custodial deaths and such crimes. Right now, nothing could have been more splendid than to proclaim to the world that we, despite our poverty, don’t hesitate to provide shelter to the helpless ones in need. That would have been very practical and generous too when the time would come for us to seek shelter for our refugees. And that day is not that far away.
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The last time the Rohingyas came to Bangladesh, the Arabs and the Pakistanis used them to build Islamic militancy outfits to increase its influence in the area. The rise and subsequent scattering of these militant groups led to the proliferation of explosives and weapons in local hands left behind by them. Such caches were regularly found till late and publicised in our media.
The then BNP government was almost certainly aware of such a mischief network but did nothing as a matter of policy. But if the AL wants to stop it from happening, it can take security actions to prevent that but refusal on security grounds is an unacceptably bad excuse.
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Hosting refugees is always a problem and for a poor country like us, it is even more so. But that is exactly the reason why we can also afford to do it. We are so poor it really doesn’t matter because our large scale poverty would not be affected much by an addition of even a few hundred thousands. The number is not significant and fecund Bangladeshis will be adding many more even before the year ends.
And this is a special situation which demands special consideration. Nobody is saying we have to give citizenship to the Rohiyngas but just shelter from immediate suffering.
Upon his return from Pakistan in January 1972, Sheikh Mujib had said that although a poor country, India had shared whatever food it had with us and we were grateful. We on the other hand, breaking with that spirit have refused the helpless.
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And even if Jamaat-e-Islami has been agitating the Rohingyas, it is no ground for refusal. Whatever a political party may do and whoever is to be blamed, it can’t be a reason for denying the victims sanctuary, a principle on which every other international position stands. Plus, who says this is a fact? What reliable evidence exists of this? And how can that change the fact that the Rohingyas fled in fear of their life?
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We should remember what we did to Rohingya men, women and children because that’s how we shall be treated when Bangladeshis turn refugees due to the adverse impact of climate change. The only two places Bangladeshis can go to are Myanmar and India and we have more or less spelt out how we wish to be treated when our time comes by giving them an example. The massive fencing on the Indian border is not an artwork actually and is meant to keep desperate Bangladeshis out. And India is smart enough to know what that means in refugee generation terms. So when the same situation strikes us we should not expect better treatment.
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Bangladeshis will become refugees and given its size and population, it will always have refugees. If India drives out all the illegal Bangladeshis who work there, what face will we have left to say that India should leave those poor people alone?
Treating the Rohingyas this way must have made the Indians happy because the moral position we held is now gone. We have undermined the only argument we had which was that those who seek safety across the border are poor and vulnerable economic refugees who should not be shot dead like Felani and others. Now no argument will work and we have handed them the excuses through our own callous example.
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Bangladesh is the last country which should have refused entry to the Rohingyas. Because our foreign ministry’s competence level is inadequate, it can rarely negotiate positive terms with international agencies. As a result, we are unable to manage international fund flows to take care of the refugees already here. It is because of our diplomatic failure to convince the Myanmar government to take them back that continues the crisis.
This exceedingly short term thinking of refusal to let them in has taken much of the clout we may have had as the largest producer of refugees before, now and in the future when we will plead for a better deal for Bangladeshis.
We have slaughtered our own present and future.
Afsan Chowdhury is the executive editor, bdnews24.com.