Recent instability in Bangladesh-Myanmar border: Implications for Rohingya repatriation and responses
Bangladesh is hosting 1.2 million Rohingyas for more than five years. Due to the atrocities carried out by Myanmar authorities in August 2017 Rohingyas fled from Myanmar. From then on Bangladesh has been sheltering the Rohingyas. Till now the repatriation process has not yet started. The situation in the Rakhine state of Myanmar is not conducive to the voluntary, safe and dignified repatriation of the Rohingyas. Due to this uncertainty and delay, Rohingyas are losing their patience and becoming frustrated. They are now involved in various types of crime, terrorist activities, murder, abduction, drug trafficking, human trafficking and creating law and order situations inside and outside the camps. As a result, the overall socio-economic situation and security of Bangladesh are under threat and this may pose threat to regional security in the future.
Myanmar is posing threat to the region through, the Rohingya crisis, the turn-down of democracy, and armed conflict with various groups within their own borders. After the military coup in Myanmar on Feb. 1, 2021, the protesters came out in the streets to end military rule and restore democracy. The Myanmar military is currently facing attacks from resistance forces and ethnic armed groups across the country. Around 100 new armed groups have emerged in Myanmar since the coup. The National Unity Government (NUG) formed the People’s Defense Force (PDF) by mobilizing pro-democracy activists across the country. The PDF is now fighting against the Myanmar army along with other armed groups.
Recent security issues
There were a number of security issues that took place along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, like air space violations, shelling across the border, firing, etc. These provocative activities are not only a violation of international norms and practices but are always contrary to good neighborly relations. Bangladesh lodged a strong protest against the violations of air and land space and warned Myanmar that such actions should not be repeated. The Ambassador of Myanmar in Bangladesh was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to express Bangladesh’s deep concern on this issue.
Myanmar’s ambassador blamed the Arakan Army (AA) for firing shells and bullets into the Bangladeshi side of the border. Fighting between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army is reported to have escalated in Northern Rakhine and Chin states since early August. Firing across the border and airspace violations by Myanmar could be ways to provoke Bangladesh to engage militarily. They are trying to divert international attention from their internal conflicts with different ethnic minority groups that have been going on for a long time. A recent border incident escalated tensions between the neighbors, raising concerns about a new Rohingya exodus into Bangladesh and diminishing prospects of their repatriation to Myanmar. Bangladesh has sealed its border with Myanmar to prevent a further influx of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh. Bangladesh does not want to engage militarily and is seeking to resolve the tension through diplomatic channels. Bangladesh’s government has taken the right steps by adopting a diplomatic approach.
Bangladesh conveyed deep concerns about the recent incidents as mortar shells from Myanmar fell and exploded inside Bangladesh territory to the heads of missions of ASEAN countries and other diplomats. The ASEAN envoys said that they will convey Bangladesh’s concerns to the Myanmar authority. Dhaka has been engaged in talks with Myanmar to find ways to repatriate Rohingyas back to Myanmar. The recent border situation will impact the repatriation of Rohingyas. Myanmar may be aiming to create a chaotic situation along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border to delay the repatriation process. The international community needs to continue to support the Rohingyas along with the Bangladesh government to ease the humanitarian suffering. For Bangladesh, an all-out effort to resolve the Rohingya crisis is essential for security, stability, growth, and prosperity. Bangladesh should continue regular, structured, substantive, and persuasive diplomatic engagement by every possible means.
The way forward
From the existing trend, it may be assumed that the crisis will be protracted. Long term crisis management plan needs to be formulated to tackle the situation in the future.
Bangladesh should take adequate measures to ensure uninterrupted humanitarian aid and support with the help of donor agencies, regional countries, and the international community.
ASEAN, China, Russia, India, and the UN should come forward to stop the internal conflict in Myanmar in the interests of regional security.
Everyone should be careful so that Myanmar’s internal conflict does not pose threat to regional peace and stability.
The Rohingya crisis must not be allowed to be forgotten due to the ongoing unstable global situation. Bangladesh should take an all-out effort to keep this issue alive till the end.
UN organizations and NGOs should be allowed to carry out humanitarian activities in Rakhine state to support and improve the condition of Rohingyas staying there. They should start creating situations conducive to repatriation.
Regional countries and the international community should support Myanmar to implement the Kofi Annan commission recommendation for the development of the Rakhine state.
Rohingyas staying inside the camps in Myanmar should be allowed to go back to their villages. This will normalize the situation and will pave the way for the voluntary, dignified, safe, and sustainable repatriation of the Rohingyas.
Efforts should be taken to change the attitude of the people of Myanmar to increase the acceptance of Rohingyas through UN, NUG, AA, international organizations, and Organizations working for Rohingya’s interests.
Regional countries should play an important role in solving this crisis by increasing humanitarian, political and financial cooperation.
Initiatives should be taken to increase the acceptance of the Rohingyas through friendly Buddhist countries to change the behavior of the radical Buddhist organizations of Myanmar and abandon the hate campaign against the Rohingyas.
Regional countries should take initiatives and accelerate the repatriation process by creating a suitable situation in Rakhine State.
Rohingya diaspora should be active in a different forums and in different countries to expedite the repatriation and bring back normalcy in Myanmar.
Rohingyas can be relocated to any third country under the initiative of the UN and the International Refugee Organization.
A new MoU for repatriation should be made for expediting the issue. With the existing one, it will be protracted and progress will be very slow.
Bangladesh should increase the number of engagements through different channels to bridge the existing gaps and trust deficit between the two countries.
A Rohingya repatriation cell may be created for looking after the uninterrupted flow of aid and humanitarian support, diplomatic engagement, security, and repatriation activities.
Bangladesh should develop credible deterrence and modernize its existing establishments.
In this current unstable global situation, the existing Rohingya crisis poses a threat to stability and regional security. All-out effort should be taken by the world community and the regional countries to resolve this crisis as early as possible.
Brig Gen (Retd) Hasan Md Shamsuddin, ndc, afwc, psc, MPhil, is a researcher on Myanmar, Rohingya and ASEAN affairs.