Bangladesh appears to be coming to terms with the fact that hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees languishing in camps on its soil after fleeing violence in neighboring Myanmar will not be returning home any time soon.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed, during a roundtable discussion about education at the United Nations headquarters in New York, appealed to the international community for its continued support in providing education for Rohingya children in her country’s sprawling camps.
“Unfortunately we are bearing the brunt of violence in another country. Currently, Bangladesh is hosting over 1.1 million forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals,” she said in making the appeal.
UNICEF estimated there were 693,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh as of April this year, half of whom were children. That figure likely does not include those who fled before Myanmar’s Rakhine state became engulfed in violence in 2012.
That violence intensified in August 2017 when the Myanmar military launched so-called “clearance operations” in response to Rohingya militant attacks that have since driven as many as 800,000 new refugees across the border into Bangladesh. A UN probe has claimed the expulsions had “genocidal intent.”
On June 6, the Myanmar government signed an agreement with UNDP and UNHCR for the voluntary return and reintegration of the refugees, but so far none have returned due to concerns for their safety and security. Rohingya spokesmen have also rejected the agreement because it does not address the thorny issue of citizenship.
That leaves no choice for the refugees but to remain in Bangladesh. Indeed, Hasina’s emphasis on the need for foreign-funded education indicates that those who were born in the camps and those who fled the violence are expected to remain in Bangladesh for the foreseeable future.
But Bangladesh is also starting to come under fire for its plans for the refugees. A plan to relocate many of them to an isolated and flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal has been criticized by rights groups as impractical.
Nor is it clear the Myanmar military will soon ease its hard-line position on the Rohingya. On September 25, The Myanmar Times reported that Myanmar military chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, said that the UN has “no right to interfere in and make decisions over the sovereignty of a country.”
His statement came a week after UN investigators said he and other military officers should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. It was the first time Min Aung Hlaing hit back publicly at international criticism of his command control role in the Rohingya refugee crisis.