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A world obsessed with Ukraine must not forget the Rohingya

When the Myanmar military began a clearance operation against them in 2017, several members of the community were forced to flee.

KYAW MIN |

Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, escalating the Russo-Ukrainian War, which started in 2014. With more than 6.5 million Ukrainians fleeing the country and a third of the population displaced, the invasion has triggered Europe’s fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II. 

While Bangladesh’s Rohingya’s plight has been overshadowed by the Covid-19 outbreak, Myanmar’s military coup in February, the Afghan refugee crisis, and now the Ukraine crisis, the community remains in limbo, with many of its members missing citizenship and the rights that come with it. Around a million Rohingya refugees have been living in Bangladesh since 2017, while others have sought sanctuary in nations all over the world. 

When the Myanmar military began a clearance operation against them in 2017, several members of the community were forced to flee. Rakhine state was particularly tense, with tales of rape and murder against Rohingyas abounding. The International Court of Justice has charged Myanmar with genocide over these atrocities. Meanwhile, the community’s living conditions in refugee camps are deteriorating. 

Due to the extended ambiguity surrounding their repatriation to Myanmar, Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are becoming frustrated. Such ambiguity poses a significant risk because it tempts many people to engage in illicit activity. 

Bangladesh confronts increasing difficulty in managing the displaced people as foreign support for the Rohingyas dwindles, with little hope of repatriation in the near future. 

Following the ongoing Ukraine crisis, and the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, which has already displaced millions of Afghans both inside and outside the nation, another humanitarian crisis has emerged. 

While many in the world community have correctly condemned Myan- mar’s junta for deposing an elected government, the Rohingya’s situation must not be overlooked. The international community must demand justice for the Rohingya in addition to a restoration of representative rule in Myanmar. Despite the fact that members of the Muslim Rohingya population claim generations of roots in the country formerly known as Burma, Myanmar’s ruling generals have long promoted the xenophobic stereotype that they are “outsiders” in the Buddhist-majority country. 

Bangladesh is home to nearly 1.1 million forcibly displaced Rohingyas, the majority of whom arrived on 25 August 2017, following a murderous crackdown by Myanmar’s army described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” The international community should have always taken the safe repatriation of refugees seriously. Bangladesh’s administration began diplomatic attempts to return them and negotiated agreements with Myanmar. However, even five years later, not a single Rohingya has returned home for fear of persecution. It appears that Bangladesh is paying the price for expressing sympathy for a persecuted minority community in another country. 

Bangladesh wants to resolve the Rohingya situation through peaceful negotiations, and Myanmar and the international community should do the same. Myanmar has been attempting to mislead the international community in order to avoid fulfilling its duties for the repatriation and reintegration of the forcibly displaced Rohingyas. 

The host country wants to ensure Rohingya return through peaceful means, but nothing has worked out so far. It goes without saying that voluntary repatriation of Rohingyas is the most sustainable 

and long-term solution to the situation. However, because of the Rohingyas’ lack of faith in the Myan- mar government, repatriation attempts failed twice in November 2018 and August 2019. 

Myanmar must ensure that Rohingya refugees are not persecuted upon their return in order to facilitate voluntary repatriations. To this aim, the international community and the United Nations should increase pressure on Myanmar to create a safe, secure, and dignified environment for the Rohingya refugees to return home. 

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, stated recently during his visit to Bangladesh that while focusing on the “catastrophic disaster” in Ukraine, they must not forget about other challenging situations across the world, such as the Rohingya crisis, which require attention and resources. 

Despite new financing to Ukraine in response to an “exceptional humanitarian situation,” the US is committed to continuing to support Bangladesh in the Rohingya crisis, according to a top USAID official who visited Rohingya camps in Bangladesh on 11 May 2021. 

“We are dedicated to maintaining our support for the Rohingya response,” USAID Deputy Administrator Isobel Coleman told a small group of journalists at an American Centre press conference in the capital before ending her five-day visit to Bangladesh. She continued, “We have a very fundamental approach to humanitarian response, and ensuring that the refugees (Rohingyas) who are here receive the basic necessities to meet is a priority for us.” 

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees and host communities in Bangladesh, as well as Rohingya and other conflict-affected persons in Myanmar, will benefit from an additional 22 million in humanitarian help from the European Commission. Protection services, food aid, nutrition, health, and shelter will all benefit from the investment. 

With the world’s attention focused on the migrants in Ukraine, the global community should not overlook the misery of 1 million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The international community’s pleas for repatriation to Myanmar must be louder, more visible, and more frequent. Bangladesh’s government must continue to ensure that transfers are entirely voluntary. Any long-term solution must take into account the local and national context. But the flow of humanitarian assistance must be ensured till then because they need to fulfil their basic needs. 

(The writer is a Kuala Lumpur-based activist, educator, freelance writer, and researcher. )