Instability in a neighbouring country is bound to have its fallout in countries surrounding it. So when Rohingyas are persecuted in the Rakhine State of Myanmar now and then, the victims have a natural choice to flee to south-eastern region of Bangladesh that has the tiny Naaf River and narrow hilly terrain in Bandarban district as its border. The Rohingyas usually use boats to cross the river and trek the terrain to take shelter in areas that constitute Cox's Bazar district.
The Rohingya refugees have learnt basic Bangla language skills over the years and become fluent in local dialect. With physiques similar to those of locals, they mix well with the Bangladeshi community. Unless they disclose their identities, they can hardly be distinguished from others. That is why hundreds of thousands of undocumented Rohingyas have integrated with the local population.
As surveys say, most of the Rohingyas come from Myanmar's bordering areas like Maungdaw, Buchidong, Rachidong, Akyab (now Sittwe), Momra and Chokt and sneak into Bangladesh through different points, including Teknaf, Shabrang, Shah Porir Dweep, Hnila, Howaikang, Moyapara and Jaliapara. They also enter the Chittagong Hill Tracts by crossing the hilly terrain. Myanmar shares a 271-kilometre border with Cox's Bazar and Bandarban, 54km with Teknaf upazila alone. That the fresh influx of Rohingyas in Cox's Bazar areas is now continuing unabated implies that Bangladesh has eased its otherwise tight vigil along the border.
The world recognises that Bangladesh is falling victim to the influx of Rohingya refugees whenever the Myanmar military resorts to ethnic cleansing in the Rakhaine State. But then the international community should appreciate that the country, having limited lands and overpopulation, cannot simply bear the burden of foreign refugees. Mysteriously, it is not yet known why Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who holds the reins of power in Myanmar, is maintaining a stony silence on the reign of terror unleashed by the country's armed forces and extremist Buddhist monks. In fact, the Nobel peace award that was given to Suu Kyi has lost its significance in view of her inaction with regard to brutalities on helpless humanity in her own country.
There are now three distinct options for Bangladesh to deal with the continuing Rohingya refugee issue. One is to hold dialogue with Myanmar as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has time and again favoured dialogue as a means to settle bilateral issues peacefully. The second is to join hands with China and India in making a joint move to hold talks with Myanmar and if such a move fails, to raise the issue internationally. The third option is to use the United Nations to pressurise Myanmar to end atrocities on Rohingyas and take back its refugees from Bangladesh.
China is also affected by armed guerilla warfare in Myanmar, a country where insurgents are locked in fierce battle with the armed forces. Beijing has beefed up its security in the region of Yunnan province. Police officers have been deployed at a highway exit to Wanding, a township on Yunnan's border with Myanmar, to check identification documents of passers-by, due to a flood of refugees from Myanmar. The Chinese armed border police have set up several temporary checkpoints along the Wanding River, as it is possible to wade across the shallow waterway to enter China. As the South China Morning Post has reported, the Chinese authorities are, however, trying to shelter thousands of refugees from Myanmar, most of them ethnic Chinese, who are crossing the border to escape fighting between government troops and rebel militias.
India too is aggrieved over its militant groups taking shelter in inaccessible areas of Myanmar. As the Times of India reported, despite intense efforts from India, Myanmar doesn't seem to be very enthusiastic about cracking down on Indian militant groups that have taken refuge in its territory. Since the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) violated its 14-year-old ceasefire, India has been pushing Myanmar to crack down on militant groups. However, there seems to be no major movement forward, and militants continue to have a free run in Myanmar.
Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali this month sought international support to resolve the longstanding challenge including the current crisis involving the Rohingyas. But he is yet to spell out what he meant when he briefed foreign envoys based in Dhaka about Bangladesh's 'deep interest' in helping Myanmar 'in all possible ways from addressing its security concern to contributing in the social reconciliation and economic uplift of people in Rakhine State'.
As the Foreign Minister said, Bangladesh has already taken a series of steps to 'establish and maintain friendly relations with Myanmar, particularly with the newly elected NLD government through engagements at different levels'. Bangladesh provided help on its own to Naypyidaw since terrorists attacked the Border Guard posts of Myanmar on October 9, 2016. Bangladesh not only condemned the attack, it also provided critical assistance to Myanmar by arresting suspects and sharing intelligence.
Bangladesh has the option to join hands with both China and India in helping Aung San Suu Kyi handle the internal situation in Myanmar as possibly she is not in full control of the security situation there. Happily, Dhaka maintains friendly relations with both Beijing and New Delhi and should take its advantage to join forces in order to make the region free from militancy and terrorism. Even the United Nations termed persecution of Rohingyas as 'ethnic cleansing'.
But before internationalising the issue and seeking the UN intervention, Bangladesh should send a special emissary to Myanmar for holding talks with Aung San Suu Kyi about the grave refugee situation the country faces today. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has already forged friendship with her during her two meetings in Naypyidaw and in New York. Suu Kyi even briefed Hasina on her initiative to resolve the Rohingya issue but details of such a briefing are to be made public. Such a bilateral move will forge closer Bangladesh-Myanmar ties. Once such overtures fail, only then a tripartite move should be initiated to help Suu Kyi tackle security situation in Myanmar. After all, it was she who had appointed a credible international commission headed by no less a person than former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to help defuse ethnic tension in the Rakhaine State. He is already there following reports of fresh ethnic cleansing.
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