A Case Study on How and Why Rohingya Refugees are Neglected in Bangladesh

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A Case Study on How and Why Rohingya Refugees are Neglected in Bangladesh
By Ehteshamul Haque – Ehteshamul Haque is a master (research) student in International Relations department at Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt University, Turkey.    

In the 21st century, Rohingya refugee is one of the most discussed issues trembling the world people’s heart and mind as global media-both electric and print focused on the misery of Rohingya minority in Myanmar and then in Bangladesh after taking refuge beginning in 1978 (after independence of Bangladesh) and then in 1991, 2012 and at last in 2016 also with a little continuity of fleeing Myanmar to Bangladesh. This study is divided into three sections.

Firstly, it discusses the historical background Rohingya refugees arriving into Bangladesh. Then, after coming to Bangladesh, how their life is threatened and frightened is illustrated with some secondary data of interview. Finally, this paper concludes with the decision that Rohingya refugees are seriously neglected in Bangladesh because of different legal restrictions from the government and also for multidimensional national security issue.

Introduction — Rohingya is a minority Muslim ethnic group living in northern part of the Arakan state, Myanmar named Buthidaung and Maungdaw adjacent to the Naf River (used as border between Bangladesh and Myanmar) of Bangladesh. History says that decades long violent outbreaks in Myanmar have forced thousands of Rohingyas fleeing to Bangladesh and then some to India, Malaysia or other near countries with a most recent wave in 2012 and 2016. There are two Rohingya Camps in Cox’s bazar led by UNHCR and controlled by the BD government: Kutupalong and Nayapara in Cox’s Bazar. But importantly, only 12% registered refugees are living here where a majority of them live in different places scattered in Cox’s Bazar district with fear of police-arrest, abuse and want of food and other basic needs. Even those living in UNHCR camps are also victims to different types of oppression by some local gang groups. These make untold suffering in their lives counting them as one of the most persecuted groups in the world.

Historical Background of Rohingya Refuge Arrival in Bangladesh — The Muslims in Arakan have a long history from the beginning of the Maruk-U dynasty (1430-1785) of the Arakan Kingdom even with a possibility of their living before the emergence of the Kingdom. The British rule (1824-1948) in Arakan experienced a steady movement of people from Bangladesh (the then east-Benagl) to Arakan because a large scale Indian immigration was encouraged by the British which is seemed to be the reason for the growth of population in Arakan at that time. The British administration classified them as Chittagongians or Mahomedans. But the Japanese occupation period (1942-1945) armed the Buddhist Arakanese to fight against the British and the British used Muslim forces for counterattack which made a confrontation between Buddhist Arakanese and Muslims with a heavy damage in both sides experiencing also internal and external migration (mostly to east-Bengal) again.

The situation did not even change after the independence of Burma in 1948 which became worse after Ne Win’s military coup in 1962. There had been some noticeable change in the demographic composition of Myanmar in 1963-1964 and in 1974 which made an opportunity for the Myanmar government to use the issue of religion and race to fasten its decaying support. Undertaking two censuses in this two-period demonstrated that a growing number of Arakanese (Buddhist were more than Muslims in number) went to eastward Arakan, place of majoritarian Burmese settlers like areas of Bassein, Pegu, Mandalay etc. leaving their ancient land. But the Myanmar government marked this increased population in eastward area as the result of the population influx from Bangladesh and made a plan to push them back from the border area in favor of Buddhists.

Then, an alleged coup attempt in February 1976 by a group of junior army officers made the situation more complicated as both the Buddhist and Muslims of Arakan were reportedly involved in this coup. As a result, the Myanmar government strongly believed that this coup attempt was according to an organized plan to oust the government from power. Thus, the government went to more hardline and started counter-insurgency operations named “Operation Dragon King” only against the Rohingyas living in small villages near Bangladesh-Myanmar border from a fear that Rohingas may get arms support from nearby Bangladeshi Muslims.

Accordingly, by June 1978, 167,000 Rohingya Muslims were pushed into Bangladesh (South Asia Forum for Human Rights, 2005), making the latter a refugee-receiving nation for the first time. In 1991, the Myanmar military launched an operation against the Arakanese following an agreement with China to provide $900 million worth of military equipment like jet fighters (McColm,1992). This agreement allowed Myanmar junta government to show more militant posture than the before which can be clearly understood by its more desperate policies in an effort to win the heart of majority Buddhist in Myanmar.

But to get a more-clearer understanding we have to look not long before that because of the demise of the Ne Win’s government in 1988 and followed by refusal of the military government to hand over the power to the popularly elected representatives in 1990, the military junta government lost all credibility among majority Buddhists. This failure in democratic movement to oust the government from power made military junta more courageous making more frightful situation among Muslims in Arakan as they had also active participation in the failed democratic movement.

Military government clearly understood that democratic movement strengthened the unity of Arakanese Muslims. As a result, the military government did everything possible to weaken the unity among Arakanese Muslims, also thought to be way of the consolidation of the government’s support among majority Burmese Buddhist community as some monks were also killed during the anti-government demonstration in 1990. As a part of this policy, Myanmar government then started ‘Operation Pye Thaya’ in July 1991 targeting again to use the ‘card of Religion and race’ against Arakanese Muslims which at the same time weakened the possibility of any united liberation movement in Arakan. Being victim to military junta government’s operation, by April 1992, more than 223,000 (Bangladesh Observer, 29 April 1982) fled Myanmar to Bangladesh which (within next six months) reached to 265,000 (Dawn, Karachi 3 January 1992), comparatively almost double than the first push in number leaving another big burden for poverty laden Bangladesh.                                                            

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