Rohingya crisis: Bangladesh's initiative is commendable, but refugees need to be repatriated soon, says expert

With nearly 7,00,000 Rohingya Muslims living in refugee camps across Bangladesh, the country has been at the centre of the world's attention for quite a while now. For thousands of people fleeing ethnic persecution at the hands of Myanmar army, the Shaikh Hasina government has turned out to be a saviour.

"We have the ability to feed 160 million people of Bangladesh and we have enough food security to feed the 700,000 refugees," Hasina's statement at a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar helped Bangladesh gain a lot of goodwill on the global stage.

But beyond the humanitarian concern, the influx of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar has serious political, diplomatic and economic impact on Bangladesh.

Speaking to Firstpost from New Delhi, Major General (Retd) ANM Muniruzzaman, president of the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS), a Dhaka-based think tank deliberated on the ongoing refugee crisis in his country.

"Bangladesh has gone out of its way to show humanitarian tendencies towards the sufferings of the Rohingya people," Muniruzzaman said.

Over 7,00,000 Rohingya Muslims have moved to Bangladesh. AP

Over 7,00,000 Rohingya Muslims have moved to Bangladesh. AP

Praising the Bangladesh government's efforts, he added that hardly any other country has been as sensitive towards the sufferings of refugees. "The Bangladesh government has done what it can within its limited resources. We must note that the government has gone on record to say that despite the resource constraints, it will share all resources with the Rohingya refugees to alleviate their sufferings," Muniruzzaman said.

However, the former UN peacekeeper and head of the post-election UN stablisation mission in Cambodia, told Firstpost that the humanitarian approach towards the refugees cannot be the government's long-term strategy.

"These people are essentially Myanmar citizens and they need to be repatriated to their country at the earliest," he said, when asked whether the refugees can be given some sort of citizenship in Bangladesh.

Muniruzzaman also said the humanitarian effort cannot be for an indefinite period, and the repatriation "needs to be done quickly".

A week ago, the two governments had signed a deal to coordinate over repatriating Rohingya refugees. But only time will tell whether the deal will work out.

Ties between Myanmar and Bangladesh, who share a 270-kilometre border, have been strained ever since the latest influx of migrants began in August this year.

But despite the tension in bilateral ties, Muniruzzaman said that Bangladesh has been showing a lot of diplomatic maturity to resolve the crisis.

Nevertheless, the refugee crisis will impact the future of the BCIM (Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar) economic corridor project. The 2,800-kilometre corridor will connect Kunming and Kolkata while passing through Mandalay in Myanmar and Dhaka in Bangladesh.

"There will be a short-term impact on the multilateral project. But I hope that in the long-run, economic ties between the two countries as well as the implementation of the economic corridor will be on track," the BIPSS president said.

The Indian government had called Rohingya refugees a "security threat", but Muniruzzaman said it's purely an "internal perception" in India, and that New Delhi has been providing humanitarian assistance to Dhaka for resolving the crisis. "It is purely an internal perception in India. I don't think it puts any additional refugee burden on us," he said, when asked how India's anti-Rohingya stance impacts Bangladesh.

India-Bangladesh ties: The way ahead 

Bangladesh is a vital cog for both India and China, both of whom have big geopolitical aspirations of being among the region's economic superpowers. Both countries have pursued foreign policy goals while keeping Bangladesh in mind.

While Dhaka is part of New Delhi's "neighbourhood first policy", it is also a participant in China's ambitious 29-nation One Belt One Road (OBOR) project.

Muniruzzaman denied that India's ties with Bangladesh will be impacted by the China-backed OBOR project, saying, "OBOR will certainly help boost ties between China and Bangladesh. But I do not think this will negatively impact our deep-rooted ties with India, with whom we are bound through history and civilisation."

Welcoming Sushma Swaraj's statement that all "irritants" in bilateral ties will be addressed at the earliest, the BIPSS president said that all outstanding issues, including the Teesta water agreement, can be resolved in a friendly and amicable manner. "We were able to resolve bigger issues like the land and maritime boundary disputes. So, I have great faith, since the Indian foreign minister also said 'irritants' can be solved," he said.

Stating that New Delhi and Dhaka now share an "excellent relationship", Muniruzzaman, who was on a week-long tour of India, added, "Under Narendra Modi, there has been a tremendous boost in our relationship. We have also resolved many long-standing issues in these three years."

Muniruzzaman believed the security cooperation between the two countries is a "shining example" to the world. "We share excellent ties in counter-terrorism coordination, intelligence sharing and using best practices in the security arena," he said.

Claiming that there is "great scope" for deeper economic ties between the two countries, Muniruzzaman said that bilateral trade volumes can potentially rise in the coming years owing to a common border and a good amount of connectivity between the two. "I believe we can have cooperation in the energy sector due to the common geography that we share. I see there has been some beginning in the sector, but it's still at a nascent stage," he added.

Updated Date: Nov 04, 2017 09:29 AM

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