Thursday, September 21, 2017


Bangladesh has been a haven for the Rohingya people since they began fleeing unprovoked oppression in their home state of Rakhine on Myanmar’s western shore, bordering Bangladesh, in 2015. Denied citizenship in their own country, the Rohingya have been in conflict not only with the other citizens of Rakhine but also with the government of Myanmar, which considers many of them to be anti-government insurgents. The United Nations describes the Rohingya as one of the world’s most persecuted people.

Already home to 400,000 Rohingya, Bangladesh has absorbed as many as 420,000 more Rohingya refugees over the past month, according to the United Nations. The number swells by the day, the result of the ongoing ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.

Bangladesh strongly supports United Nations recommendations that would end discrimination against the Rohingya in Rakhine. That’s a natural position for Bengalis. Bangladesh won its independence from Pakistan 46 years ago following a war that left 3 million people dead and forced another 10 million into refugee status in India.

Bangladesh is proud to have made an additional 2,000 acres of land available to the refugees located near two existing camps in the southern Bangladesh city of Cox’s Bazar, close to the border with Myanmar. The government is building shelters and basic hygiene facilities for the refugees, who are largely huddled roadside under tarps right now. Bangladesh has also begun providing free food and medicine as well as inoculating Rohingya children to prevent the spread of disease. It’s fingerprinting and issuing identification cards to refugees, which will give them access to government services.

What’s urgently needed now is international pressure on Myanmar — particularly from India and the U.S. — to stop driving Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh. In the best case, the ethnic cleansing would end and the Rohingya would be returned to their home country.

The crisis is straining relations between Myanmar and other nations in the region. Malaysia reproached Myanmar’s ambassador and blamed his country for “continuous violence” against the Rohingya. Tensions have also flared between Bangladesh and Myanmar. Myanmar military helicopters violated Bangladeshi airspace not long ago, forcing Bangladesh to scramble fighter jets in a defensive response.

In the meantime, Bangladesh is doing its best to help the refugees. Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, who recently visited Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, lauded its efforts to help the Rohingya, but acknowledged that more assistance is needed. She pledged humanitarian aid.

Bangladesh has allowed about 30,000 Rohingya to register as refugees. Many of those who have crossed the border do not qualify for refugee status; nevertheless, they must be cared for. And Bangladesh has done so.

Neither the new nor the existing Cox’s Bazar settlements are ideal or long-term. The sheer size and desperation of the Rohingya population makes it vulnerable and beyond the ability of local officials to manage. Criminal networks prey on the weakest and engage in human trafficking. In addition, Bangladesh has legitimate concerns about Islamist terrorists slipping into Bangladesh among the displaced Rohingya.

Myanmar must stop pushing the Rohingya into Bangladesh. It has ignored the world’s pleas to end the senseless discrimination and violence. More influence must be brought to bear on Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s government and the military junta to end the humanitarian disaster.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has applauded Bangladesh’s zero-tolerance policy toward terrorism, knows that instability and population displacement create a breeding ground for terror. As Bangladesh’s close partner and ally, Modi recently pressed Bangladesh’s case regarding the Rohingya with the Myanmar government.

It’s the U.S.’ turn now. A statement by President Trump — or even a tweet — would carry unmatched authority. The U.S. has worked closely with Bangladesh in the war on terror and in many other endeavors. Bangladesh needs the U.S. government and its president to lean on Myanmar to end the Rohingya emergency.

• Sajeeb Wazed is chief information and communications technology adviser to the government of Bangladesh and the son of the prime minister.


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