Dear Director General of BIISS;
Distinguished speakers; and
Assalamu Alaikum and Good morning
At the onset, I would like to thank BIISS for hosting this webinar amid the renewed surge of COVID-19 pandemic and for inviting me to speak at this important webinar on “The Rohingya Crisis: Response of the International Community and the Repatriation Process”. The title rightly focuses on the prime issue of repatriation of the Rohingya people from Bangladesh to Myanmar in a timely manner.
As of now, we have heard several speakers – who have elaborated on the actions or reactions of the important global actors regarding the crisis. I thank the speakers for their valuable and insightful deliberations and comments.
By now, we all are aware how the crisis evolved in Myanmar, and how we, in Bangladesh, have saved the world from a catastrophe when these unfortunate people fled en mass from violence, persecution, atrocities and crimes against humanity at the hands of their own people in their own country 03 years 08 months back in August 2017.
As a responsible member of the world community, we did our part by providing temporary shelter to the Rohingya, sharing our food, and ensuring their basic humanitarian needs as a first responder – even before the international community stepped in. It was a colossal task on the part of a small country like Bangladesh with a large and high density of population and resource constraints.
Since then, we have been spending millions of dollar every year for coordination of massive humanitarian operation, ensuring safety and security in and around camps, improvement of living conditions of displaced Rohingya, restoration of environment, and mitigation of sufferings of host community. We also spent over USD 350 million from our own budget to develop an island Bhasan Char with better infrastructure and amenities to relocate a portion of Rohingyas from the over-congested and disaster-prone camps in Cox’s Bazar.
[As of now, we have relocated over 18,500 Rohingya to Bhasan Char in several phases and again we are managing their basic humanitarian needs from our own exchequer – given that the UN is yet to commence their operation at the island.]
Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have made timely intervention from the Government of Bangladesh and due to our effective engagement with the UN agencies and partner countries – the pandemic in the congested camps could be kept under control.
[As of 19 April 2021, total number of COVID-19 tests conducted at the camps 36,583; number of COVID positive patient 493, and number of death 10]
Despite intense bilateral diplomatic efforts from our side as well as repeated calls of the international community and scores of resolutions both at various UN bodies as well as other regional bodies like EU failed to bring about any positive change in Myanmar’s mindset, policy, and approach. Till date, not a single Rohingya could return to Myanmar, though it was supposed to begin January 2018 under the bilateral instruments we signed with Myanmar.
Myanmar authorities did not demonstrate genuine political will to resolve the crisis. Rather, they have attempted to make falsified and misrepresented facts, unsubstantiated claims, and laid unjustifiable blame on Bangladesh to deny their own obligations and thereby misguided the international community. At the same time, the business as usual approach of the international community by means of increased bilateral trade, investment and development assistance have undoubtedly encouraged Myanmar to flout the decisions of international mechanisms and continue mass atrocities on its minorities with a greater sense of impunity.
[Under the trilateral platform involving China, some advancement was foreseen following the Foreign Secretary level virtual meeting of January 2021. However, recent political developments and ongoing instability in Myanmar since 01 February 2021 entail further uncertainty in repatriation.]
The displaced people are not expected to opt for return on their own volition unless Myanmar creates a conducive environment in Rakhine and builds confidence among Rohingya. Myanmar needs to adequately address the fundamental concerns of the displaced Rohingya which include among others: safety and security, arrangements for normal living in places of origin, and issuance of proper identity document.
The ongoing judicial proceedings both at the ICJ and the ICC are of utmost importance to put an end to Myanmar’s long history of persecution, deep rooted culture of impunity. While Bangladesh has been playing a proactive role in relevant international fora to uphold justice and rights for Rohingya, the international community must remain focused, vigorously pursue accountability and justice though these international judicial mechanisms. In this connection, I sincerely thank the Government of the Netherlands and the Government of Canada for their joint expression of interest to assist the ICJ genocide case against Myanmar.
Repatriation of all displaced people to Myanmar remains a compelling priority for Bangladesh. The displaced Rohingya are also desperate to return home in safety and dignity at the earliest possible.
The outcomes and experiences of our bilateral diplomatic efforts of working with Myanmar on the Rohingya issue clearly suggest that Bangladesh alone cannot solve the crisis. Given the gravity of the crisis of over a million Rohingya and the mindset of the Myanmar authorities, the international community must not shy away from their responsibility to resolve the crisis and relieve Bangladesh from the burden that Myanmar has imposed upon us.
We fervently call upon the international community to engage in depth with Myanmar in a meaningful way to ensure the creation of conducive environment in the Rakhine and find a lasting solution for the unfortunate community. Key nations in the region and ASEAN countries with diverse direct leverage over Myanmar have added responsibility in building confidence among the Rohingya and to ensure peace and stability of the region. That will be the real service and most important service for an ethnic minority, the Rohingya – seriously facing threat of extinction due to ‘ethnic cleansing’, as the UN has termed. Only through our concerted efforts, sustained repatriation can become a reality.
While we are committed to continue our efforts, albeit, we will have to be remindful of the ongoing political situation of Myanmar. The international community should make a concerted effort to stabilize the situation in Myanmar and effectively prevent any further mass displacement or cross border exodus.
I would also like to take this opportunity to encourage BIISS to organize events on the Rohingya issue involving the influential different think tanks and its like-minded organizations at different capitals, particularly in the friendly countries of Myanmar that would contribute in creating wider appeal in favour of a lasting solution of the crisis. I would also request BIISS to conduct academic research in a bid to counter the baseless narratives of the Myanmar authorities concerning the Rohingya.
I thank you all for your patient hearing.