Rohingya Refugee Repatriation from Bangladesh: A Far Cry from Reality

Published date01 August 2020
Date01 August 2020
Subject MatterResearch Articles
Rohingya Refugee
Repatriation from
Bangladesh: A Far Cry
from Reality
Abdullah Hossain Mallick1
State-backed systematic persecution in 2017 forcibly displaced more than 700,000
Rohingya people from Rakhine State, Myanmar, to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The
Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar have become a matter of worry for the
Bangladesh government. The conditions in the camps are appalling, raising the
possibility of an epidemic, and there has been a spike in crime, including rape,
murder, abduction and drug and human trafficking. Seeking a better future,
some Rohingya refugees have attempted to move from Bangladesh to Malaysia,
Thailand and Indonesia through various illegal routes. But these attempts have
either failed or the refugees faced an even worse situation, since these Southeast
Asian states refused to confer refugee status on the Rohingyas. Therefore, to
bring normalcy back to the lives of the Rohingya people, a repatriation process
from Bangladesh to Rakhine State, Myanmar, must be created and implemented.
This would require the Government of Myanmar to guarantee a conducive living
environment for the Rohingyas in the Rakhine State, uphold their basic human
rights and provide Myanmar citizenship to the Rohingyas. As regional powers with
major economic and political interests in Myanmar, India and China could play a
constructive role and bring pressure on the Myanmar government to agree to
take back the Rohingyas from Bangladesh. But so far, both New Delhi and Beijing
have been reluctant to get involved in resolving the Rohingya refugee issue.
Bangladesh, Myanmar, Rakhine, Rohingya, refugee, repatriation, barrier
1 Independent Analyst, Bangladesh.
Corresponding author:
Abdullah Hossain Mallick, Independent Analyst, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
7(2) 202–226, 2020
The Author(s) 2020
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/2347797020938983
Research Article
Mallick 203
Introduction: Coerced Displacement of the Rohingya
During World War II, in 1942, Japan invaded Myanmar (now Myanmar), which
started the inter-communal violence between the Rohingya Muslims and the
Buddhists. The Japanese forces along with the Myanmarese Buddhists committed
repeated massacres of the Rohingya Muslims, which forced them to flee from
Myanmar to Chittagong, Bangladesh and India. The hatred between the Rohingya
Muslims and the Myanmarese government was further fuelled by the lack of
Rakhine’s involvement in political organizations, as the Socialist Party of
Myanmar1 deliberately made all Rohingya social and political organizations
illegitimate in 1964 (Joy, 2018). After almost 30 years of Myanmar’s independence,
in 1977, the Myanmarese military government enrolled all Myanmarese nationals
for providing citizenship except the Rohingya Muslims. Subsequently, over
200,000 Rohingyas chose to leave Myanmar for Bangladesh, which was the first
biggest influx of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh.
The brutal authoritarian dictatorship and economic negligence gradually
transformed Rakhine into one of Myanmar’s most impoverished states. The
Myanmarese government labelled the Rohingyas as ‘outsiders’, which led to
Rohingya resentment and forced them to flee to Bangladesh periodically (Bashar,
2018, p. 29). In 1982, the Myanmarese government ratified a highly controversial
law on citizenship2 that again did not recognize ‘Rohingya’ as among the ethnic
minorities of Myanmar, which deprived the Rohingyas of their rights as regular
citizens and made them illegitimate in the country (Bashar, 2018, p. 31).
Consequently, the Rohingya Muslims were not allowed to have full access to
education and the job market; restrictions on birth registration, health services and
marriage were also imposed on Rohingya families. The Rohingyas economically
suffered further, as they were forced to pay higher travel fees on a regular basis
than any other group inside Myanmar (Ullah, 2011, p. 145). These multiple
discriminations ultimately resulted in the prolonged displacement of the Rohingya
Muslims over several decades (Xchange Foundation, 2018) (Figure 1).
The torture, lack of recognition, deprivation of human rights and social
insecurity generated by the Myanmarese government needed to be resisted by the
Rohingyas, which ultimately gave birth to a self-defensive organization, the
Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).3 The situation worsened during late
2016 as three border outposts at Maungdaw and Rathedaung towns in Rakhine
State were assaulted by Rohingya men and boys (believed to be ARSA members);
armed mostly with sticks and knives, these men killed nine Myanmarese border
police officers. This precipitated the Myanmarese Army–led attack on civilians in
roughly 40 villages of Maungdaw Township, which displaced more than 94,000
civilians (Fortify Rights, 2018a, p. 20; Xchange Foundation, 2018). The situation
was further inflamed when, to restrict the movement of the Muslim population in
Rakhine State, the Myanmarese government enforced a prejudicial Muslim-only
curfew, along with a ban on all humanitarian operations and activities (Fortify
Rights, 2018a, p. 12). To avenge the killing and rape of Rohingyas at the hands of

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