Unlike the contentious US-Mexican frontier, the “wall” has come up almost readily on the Bangladesh-Rakhine border to ward off the further influx of the persecuted Rohingyas from Myanmar. This doubtless exacerbates the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II with its attendant ethnic cleansing of the “nowhere men”. It is beyond question too that the responsibility rests almost entirely with the government in Naypidaw which has consistently stopped short of putting rehabilitation measures in place for the refugees, should they come in, if at all. As it turns out, they have nowhere to turn except Bangladesh. Judging by current trends, they are not acceptable in Myanmar either. Truth to tell, they never were. Bangladesh’s foreign minister, Abdul Momen, has made a loaded statement on the eve of his visit to India ~ “We will not accept anybody. Now it is better if other countries open their frontiers to the refugees.” On closer reflection, the Rohingyas pose a forbidding challenge to the comity of nations; refuge and rehabilitation at this juncture must of necessity be a concerted endeavour. There is a limit to the intake in Bangladesh, not the least because of the relentless pressure on a stuttering economy. The world must give it to Prime Minister Begum Hasina that thus far she has been no less accommodating than Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, vis-a-vis the migrants from North Africa and the Arab countries. Just as international pressure was ramped up through the long years when democracy was in abeyance, so too must the government, nominally helmed by Aung San Suu Kyi but actually by the military, now come upfront on the Rohingyas, shedding the intriguing silence of the State Counsellor.
Dhaka’s decision to seal its border with Myanmar comes in the wake of the renewed confrontation between the country’s military and the rebel Arakan army. This has forced hundreds of thousands to flee their hearth and home and seek refuge in Bangladesh and reportedly also in India. The number includes people from different ethnic groups, notably Hindus and Buddhists, who are trekking towards Bangladesh. If indeed Buddhists are being targeted, as the foreign minister indicated on Thursday, the ethnic fernent has acquired a new dimension. The Buddhists, it would be useful to recall, have been used by the junta in its offensive against the Rohingyas. The UNHCR’s special envoy, Angelina Jolie’s visit to picturesque Cox’s Bazar ~ where a million Rohingyas have taken shelter ~ will be fruitful if she can convince the Myanmar regime to adopt a humanitarian approach to a festering international problem. The brutal military crackdown must end. Shutting the door can scarcely be an enduring solution. It is hard not to wonder whether the Myanmar-Bangladesh border is yet another storm-centre where the United Nations has been ineffectual.