Attitude matters!

Photo: AP

The Daily Star Strategic Issues June 23, 2012

Despite many challenges and much of a tense situation, the probable influx or intrusion of Rohingya Muslim minorities, coming to Teknaf area following torture and threats, could have been barred by the Bangladesh government. Because of the fast tame-down of the violence in Rakhine state, where most Rohingyas live along Bangladesh border, after nearly in two weeks amid the loss of over 50 lives and around 2500 houses burned, the number of intruders was less this time compared to the massive inflows of 1991, 1978-82 and earlier. The Rohingyas are the most ignored and deceived community since they are denied citizenship and ethnic identity in Myanmar, a country which had been ruled under military regimes for decades, and still, but now under a relatively liberal ruler who promises massive reforms.

দয়া করে শরনার্থীদের সাহায্য করুন, মাননীয় প্রধানমন্ত্রী

Engulfed by the gang-rape of a Rakhine (majority Buddhist) girl by Rohingyas, and subsequent murder of several Muslim pilgrims, the clash spread quickly because of communication sharing through Internet. The judgement has also been too fast as we see within three weeks into the brutal attack on the girl a local court has sentenced two men to death.

Even though the sectarian clash in Myanmar between Rakhines and Rohingyas is not new, this time it blew the minds of many for the first time. Thanks to the Bangladesh foreign minister, a large number of citizens concerned in Bangladesh, Human Rights Watch (HRW), and above all, the UN agency on refugee rights (UNHCR) — who expressed their reactions immediately after the clash broke out.

Approaches of these sections were, however, different. And this is what really matters.

Whenever Bangladesh Border Guard and Coast Guard first identified intrusion of distressed Rohingyas in Teknaf coast, they stopped those uninvited people and those “traumatised people” were “pushed back.”

Foreign Minister, Dipu Moni, came out public to declare that Bangladesh would not allow any Rohingyas this time since it was “already overburdened” by its own population, and had many internal problems persistent within the country (generally denied by the government) including the existing pressure of some 2,50,000 to 5,00,000 Rohingyas in Teknaf area of Cox’s Bazar. Expecting that the Myanmar government would be able to smartly resolve the issue, she expressed her strong announcement in media. She continued to reiterate her government’s same stance for the next few days amid the call from UNHCR, HRW, and a section of people of Bangladesh — who urged the minister that those people are given temporary shelter and aid at the outset on “humanitarian ground.”

Following repeated pressure for showing humanity towards the distressed people, the Bangladesh security personnel in Teknaf reportedly gave the refugee-seekers necessary medicine, dry food, and fuel to run their trawlers to somewhere else.

Did anyone know where those over 800 people go after they had been pushed back by Bangladesh? Could they reach Rakhine state again, or were killed in the sea by the Myanmar security guards, or did they sail towards Malaysia or Thailand? Who knows?

The minister within days, in parliament, echoed her earlier stance, but also announced that security concern was the major issue behind not assisting the Rohingyas with shelter — since Jamaat-e-Islami was patronising the Rohingyas who were already staying and those came in anew with arms against the Rakhines in Myanmar and thus instigating the violence. The citizens were told this for the first time and with no elaboration. She just said that this was conveyed by Yangon authorities to the Bangladesh embassy there.

What a revelation, though delayed! What was our administration doing? Where are all the intelligence agencies gone?

We have heard that many Rohingyas in Bangladesh have been involved in crimes inside the country and also in the Middle-East where they usually go using fake Bangladeshi passports. We have also been notified by media that some Rohingyas were found to have links with banned Islamist outfit Harkat-ul-Jehad al-Islami or HuJI. But Jamaat! Still, the people concerned about the country’s peace what to know the matter precisely and those masterminds brought to book.

Alongside, UNHCR, HRW and the young generation’s activities on media and social networking sites, the Jamaat was also seen active in demanding shelter for the Rohingyas. Most of the senior leaders of the party that sided with Pakistan in 1971 have been facing trial at the International Crimes Tribunal.

All through, the government maintained its strong stance, and the spokesperson for the government, Dipu Moni — a joint general secretary of the ruling Awami League, who recently received Mother Teresa Award for humanitarian work — was never “soft” or “controlled” in her remarks on the issue, therefore, she looked “aggressive” and “facing a turmoil-like situation.”

This is what made many people as well as human rights activists criticise the government for its “arrogant approach”, which resembles the conventional behaviour of those “miserly” who despite having wealth deny assisting others.

Apparently, most special media reports and reactions on Facebook, twitter and online blogs were demanding assistance and proactive role of the government on this issue. Many of those recalled the situation of 1971 Liberation War when millions of Bangladeshis went to India to save their life, only to raise the humanity in the government high-ups.

But nothing could either swallow up the “compassionate” corner in the government, or make the policymakers and diplomats to initiate any “regional or global dialogue” to seal the possibility of further unrest in the Rakhine region.

But don’t they know that none should be thrown away when someone is in a distressed condition? At least, as the top leaders of a government, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Dipu Moni should have shown their most compassionate behaviour towards the Rohingyas while denying shelter.

Considering the need of a close relation with Myanmar, because of its significance in terms of geographical, bilateral interest in trade and energy sharing and regional connectivity, the government should have more involved in the recent issue, thus handling the Rohingya intrusion softly, and taking the scope to become a key player in the region by initiating a discussion between the Buddhist majority Myanmar government and the Rohingyas, flanked by other regional and world leaders concerning the South Asian countries’ development and peace.

The army-backed reformist government of Myanmar and its embassy in Dhaka, surprisingly, refrained from making any public statement on the Rohingya intrusion in Bangladesh in those days of tension.

We are also not aware of whether the Bangladesh government approached Myanmar democratic icon Aung Sung Suu Kyi to tame the situation at the earliest.

It should be mentioned that during the visit of Bangladesh prime minister to Yangon in December 2011, the Myanmar government had pledged to initiate repatriation of the existing Rohingyas from Bangladesh.

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