The Rohingya crisis: a view from Bangladesh

By G. M. Shoeb Ahmedand Fazle Elahi

16 September 2016: Fazle Elahi and Insight on Conflict’s Bangladesh Local Peacebuilding Expert discuss the situation of the Rohingya in Bangladesh.

Rohingya groups in Myanmar and Bangladesh live in extremely difficult conditions.
Image credit: European Commission DG Echo

Bangladesh is a small country with a large population, struggling with unemployment and other issues
Shangkhola, Shado, Pangla, Perlis, Pedang, Besab, Wang-kelian, Lankhao and Acheho – these words are becoming common knowledge. They are the names of islands where thousands of Bangladeshi and Rohingya people were stranded last year, victims of the South East Asian refugee crisis.

This crisis concerns the movement of the Rohingya people from Myanmar (also known as Burma) and Bangladesh to new countries. They are fleeing persecution and poverty, and their situation hit the headlines in 2015 when thousands were stranded in the Andaman Sea.

Several different groups had left for different Southeast Asian countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. Hundreds are believed to have died on a route which the UN estimates more than 25,000 people have taken, some using the services of human traffickers.

The Rohingya, a Muslim minority group in Myanmar, have “for decades… suffered legal and social discrimination” so bad that it forces them to leave.

Bangladesh, meanwhile, is a small country with a large population, struggling with unemployment and other issues. So many want to leave, to escape poverty and dire living conditions.

The poor and helpless from both societies have sometimes become the victims of human traffickers in their desire to leave.

The Rohingya are a trapped people
In terms of the Rohingya, there are many from Myanmar living in Bangladesh, and some have built small houses. Many of them go to Malaysia through different sources. This can be seen as a positive for our country as they work hard and bring remittances to Bangladesh, benefiting the country as well as the banks. However, the social environment is being adversely affected. The Rohingya are a trapped people. They do not have enough food, shelter and clothing. They are also living a miserable life, and many have become involved in drug smuggling, robbery, and piracy.

This is a complex matter and also includes deforestation and clashes with the local communities. This exploitation in particular has been breeding mistrust in the relationship between Myanmar and Bangladesh. Some local people are helping Rohingya to obtain Bangladeshi voting ID and passports, and then to use these to get jobs in the Middle East and elsewhere.

So the relationship between Bangladeshis and the Rohingya has not always been good, although the Bangladeshis have now understood the situation of Rohingya. Interaction between the two communities is increasing in the form of marriage and religious ceremonies. But sometimes they are involved in violent conflict if local people come to evacuate land they are on.

Cycles of violence in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, and Malaysia have contributed to the expansion of this trade. And Bangladeshis have also become easy prey for the traffickers, who fall into the trap of agreeing to the proposals of middlemen who claim that they will provide them with jobs and money.

Legislation should be developed to prosecute those who take advantage of desperation
We think that international initiatives should be taken to support internal solutions to this problem. This needs to include mitigating problems including violence against the Rohingya by Myanmar state security forces and abuses by non-state actors such as the monkhood, and ensuring the basic needs of the Rohingya are met.

The UN Secretary General has said that the highest priority should be given to saving the lives of the floating migrants. He has appealed to the leaders of the countries involved to develop meaningful proposals to address the push and pull factors leading people to leave.

At the same time, legislation should be developed to prosecute those who take advantage of those whose desperation leads them to flee. Co-ordinated efforts should be taken to increase mass awareness by uniting both the government and the non-government institutions who work in the immigration sector. This should involve the police, the coast guard and civil society, working together to address the safety and security priorities of communities through dialogue.

Bangladesh and the law

According to stipulates Article 32 of Bangladesh Constitution ‘No person shall be deprived of life or personal liberty.” Article 31 further guarantees “protection of the law and to be treated in accordance with law” as “the inalienable right of every citizen … and of every other person for the time being within Bangladesh”.  

Personal liberty constitutes the core of the corpus of international human rights law. Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the right to life, liberty and security of all persons. Article 9 of the International Covenant of the Civil and Political Rights states that no one shall be deprived of his liberty except in accordance of law. Interpretation of Article 1(1) of the Convention against Torture reveals that pain and suffering arising from unlawful sanction (indefinite detention in this case) amounts to torture.

All these lead us to conclude that Bangladesh as a state party is obliged to honour the personal liberty of all individuals, citizens and aliens.

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