The Rohingya’s right of no return

24mathieson-jumboSource: The New York Times

By David Scott Mathieson

YANGON, Myanmar — Late last month, some 200,000 Rohingya living in refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh gathered to mark the anniversary of the brutal crackdown by the Myanmar military that drove more than 700,000 people to flee western Myanmar in August 2017. Citing security concerns, the Bangladeshi government promptly banned phone companies from providing mobile services to the refugees living in the camps of Cox’s Bazar — one million or so. The authorities have become increasingly worried about an uptick in crime in and around the camps, an increase in drug smuggling from Myanmar and the potential influence of foreign jihadists among the Rohingya. Their patience is eroding.

Why, then, are there so many Rohingya still in Bangladesh two years after the mass exodus, especially since the government struck a repatriation plan with Myanmar in early 2018? Because many refugees don’t want to return. Because Myanmar doesn’t want them back. And because foreign governments don’t much care. Even as they call for the refugees’ return — which is an impossibility in the near term — those countries are nursing their economic and political relationships with the Myanmar government.

Only 200 refugees, both Muslims and Hindus, are thought to have gone back to Myanmar this month. There have been no significant returns in the last two years, and none, to my knowledge, through formal procedures. Recent repatriation deals with Bangladesh — which were really only dusted-off versions of ineffectual agreements from the 1990s — have accomplished nothing. The Bangladeshi authorities produce lists of Rohingya they propose to send back without consulting them. Twice this year, including in August, the candidate-returnees refused to leave.

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