State Apparatuses and the Repression of Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh


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State Apparatuses and the Repression of Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh
Adheip Rahul Rashada  — is MA Candidate in International Conflict and Security.

Introduction — This paper aims to shed light on the repression of Rohingyas (with a focus on women when applicable) in the refugee camps in the Cox Bazaar district of Bangladesh. The analysis based on Althusser’s framework of ideological and repressive state apparatuses, will be used to interpret the apparatus-specific contribution to the repression of female Rohingya refugees. The first section gives a brief on the securitization theory, the Rohingya crisis and looking at women in the Rohingya context. The second section introduces the framework to be used in the analysis in the following section. The author adds internet as an additional and a distinct apparatus to make the framework more relevant to the current scenario. Finally, the paper gives some recommendations to the Bangladesh government based on the analysis before giving concluding remarks.

 The ideas formed about the refugees is based on Akhter and Kusakabe’s1 studies on the documented refugees in the camps. Consequently, this study is primarily concerned with documented migrants though studies on the undocumented migrants could significantly add to the understanding. Based on the analysis, it has been found that the reasons for insecurity caused by the securitization of the involuntary immigrants by the state operates by projecting themselves onto the ideological and repressive state mechanisms in Bangladesh. This causes the perpetuation of the vulnerability of the Rohingyas, especially women (while empowering them in certain aspects of the community), who experience a shift from their traditional roles in a Rohingya society to a more active role arising out of difficult economic conditions and a scarcity of opportunities to meet the basic needs of survival.

Securitization Theory  — The main argument of the securitization theory is that ‘security is an illocutionary speech act, that solely by uttering the security something is being done’. ‘By stating that a particular referent object is threatened in its existence, a securitizing actor claims a right to extraordinary measures to ensure the referent object’s survival’. This utterance causes the respective issue to be ‘moved out of the sphere of regular politics to the sphere of emergency politics, where it can be dealt with swiftly and without the normal (democratic) rules and regulations of policy-making’. Further, in order to avert any issue from turning into a security issue, securitization, as described by Buzan et al.5, is a three-fold process; ‘1. identification of existential threats, 2. Emergency action, and 3. Effects on inter-unit relations by breaking free of rules.’ A securitizing move would be state action that works towards bringing an issue into the realm of its security’. According to Taureck, securitization, in practice, ‘is largely based on power and capability and therewith the means to socially and politically construct a threat.’ Such restraints cause the implementation of a securitization act to only be done so by the state, who have the means to do so.

Rohingya Crisis  — ‘The Muslim Rohingya are a distinct ethnicity who lived primarily in the southwest Myanmar’. They are one of the most persecuted ethnic groups in the world. The advent of the 1990s saw some 250,000 Rohingyas from the Arakan region (Northern Rakhine State) in Myanmar flee from the country in an intensified post-election crackdown10. They fled ‘in order to avoid violence, persecution, and threats to their lives’. In the following years, they have continued to run away from the repressive state policies and practices. A common destination for this involuntary migration was the Cox Bazaar region, in the Chittagonian district of Bangladesh. These refugees have remained in this prolonged situation of unsettlement and displacement for over two decades.

Ever since Myanmar’s independence from the British Empire in 1948, it has been ‘plagued by ethno-religious tensions and armed conflicts’. Although a significant amount of the conflicts has the State as a major actor, ‘inter and intra tensions also exist within the ethnic minorities in the country’. One prominent instance is the tussle in between the majority Rakhine Buddhists and the minority Rohingya Muslims in the Arakan region of Myanmar. The difference in the historical narratives of the two ethnic groups of the region sheds light on the ethnic conflict to determine the legitimacy to reside. In the Rohingya narrative, the Arakans had an independent kingdom prior to the British occupation of the region. However, evidence from the census of British India (1931) makes a distinction in between an older community of Muslims known as “Arakan Mahomedans” and the more recent migrants who they called “Chittagonains”. So, the origins of the ‘Rohingya heritage can be traced back to the neighboring Bangladesh’.

The more recent confrontations in the Rohingya conflict can be attributed to the disproportionate use of force by the state in response to insurgent attacks on police outposts (needs citation). ‘The human-rights violations included bonded labour, restrictions on movement and marriage, arbitrary detention, systematic extortion, sexual violence, peremptory taxation and property confiscation’21. In 2017, as a result of State persecution, about 500,000 Rohingyas escaped to the already over-crowded camps in Bangladesh. The discrimination against the them doesn’t stop on the other side of the border; the lack of infrastructural capabilities, among other reasons, makes it a matter of security for the government of Bangladesh to give them more than a temporary status in their country. The securitization of refugees further adds to the vulnerability of the migrants.##


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