Durable Solutions to the Protracted Refugee Situation: The Case of Rohingyas in Bangladesh

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Durable Solutions to the Protracted Refugee Situation: The Case of Rohingyas in Bangladesh
By Ashraful Azad is a Lecturer at the Department of International Relations, University of Chittagong, Chittagong, Bangladesh and  Fareha Jasmin is an Adjunct Faculty, University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Refugee situation is characterized by suffering; suffering for the refugees, the host community as well as the asylum country. This causes constraints over financial and physical resources of the host country and immense effort of international community to deliver aid to the targeted population. The pain exacerbates when the refugee situations are prolonged and no long-lasting solution appears feasible. Alarmingly, people caught in this kind of protracted refugee situations are on the rise. The case of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh is one of the most complex refugees situations in the world which has been continuing for more than three decades. The present paper is a study of the Rohingya refugees to examine the effectiveness of traditional durable solutions offered by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The paper posits that the ultimate solution of Rohingya crisis lies in the political good-will of stakeholder state parties. UN Security Council can play a vital role by applying the coercive diplomacy through Responsibility to Protect (R2P) measures against the state of origin of refugee problem viz. Myanmar.

Generally, being a refugee in the international context is considered a temporary phenomenon. It is usually hoped that after situation becomes normal, refugees would return to their own country. But the global trends negate the perception. By the end of 2012, there were 10.5 million refugees worldwide and among them estimated 6.4 million were in protracted situations. UNHCR defines a protracted refugee situation as one in which 25,000 or more refugees of the same nationality have been in exile for five years or longer in a given asylum country. These 6.4 million protracted refugees were living in 25 host countries (UNHCR, 2013). Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh created one of the major situations of protracted displacement.

Rohingyas are an ethnic, linguistic and religious minority group of Northern Rakhine State (NRS) of Myanmar. Myanmar government categorized them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and excluded them from citizenship and basic human rights. But the Rohingya people claim themselves residents of NRS (previously known as Arakan state) tracing their origin for more than a thousand year. Being persecuted by the government forces and extreme section of the majority Buddhist people, they took asylum in various countries including Bangladesh. They came to Bangladesh in two major influxes in 1978 and 1992(Ahmed, 2010; Lewa, 2009; HRW, 2000;Grundy-war and Wong, 1997; Yegar, 1972).

Most of the refugees accepted by Bangladesh have been repatriated and the remaining about 30000 Rohingyas are living in two registered camps administered by the government and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). However, a large number of Rohingya people, approximately 200000, are living in various unregistered camps and local villages without registration, any valid legal status or international assistance. The refugees in official camps are living in Bangladesh since 1992 making it one of the most complex protracted refugee situations. Initial warm reception by the local people did not last long over the passage of time, making life increasingly difficult for refugees. The situation of unregistered people are far worse as the government identify them as ‘illegal foreigners’ from Myanmar and they are always in fear of persecution, arrest and deportation (Uddin, 2012; Ullah, 2011; Lewa, 2010; UNHCR, 2007a and b).

Persecuted in both home and host countries and losing hope of durable solutions, Rohingya people have become increasingly desperate to seek a safe future. Thousands of Rohingyas are attempting to reach Malaysia, Thailand and Australia by perilous sea journey (Human Rights Watch, 2009). Bangladesh government and media routinely accuse that many Rohingyas are illegally possessing Bangladeshi passports to go abroad (The Daily Star, 12 August 2012). After the outbreak of fresh violence in Myanmar since June 2012, more Rohingya people fled from homeland but this time Bangladesh did not allow them to take shelter leaving many to die in the sea. Policies of the regional governments including Australia, Thailand and Malaysia got more anti-trafficking discouraging the desperate Rohingya people to seek a safe shelter in their shores.

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