Boys walk in front of a panoramic view of Rohingya settlements in Kutupalong refugee camp, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: AFP / Diego Cupolo / NurPhoto

In her September 18 column Bangladesh does about-face on Rohingya, Sabria Chowdury Balland mischaracterizes Bangladesh’s handling of the Rohingya refugee crisis. Since 2017, 740,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh bringing the total number of refugees in the country to well over a million. Bangladesh generously gave them sanctuary and extended every public service it could to help them survive their ordeal, asking for nothing in return.

Balland cynically claims that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina undertook this sprawling effort to win praise as a humanitarian. This false assertion ignores her personal history and the history of Bangladesh.

The prime minister knows what it’s like to be a refugee. In August 1975, her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of Bangladesh, was assassinated along with most of their family. She and her sister were abroad when the attack took place. The sisters were barred from returning to Bangladesh by the military dictatorship that took over the government. They were effectively stateless for more than six years.

To be clear, the prime minister opened her nation’s doors to the Rohingya out of sympathy for their plight and out of empathy as well.

Bangladesh acknowledges that the Rohingya refugee camps are not ideal. That said, Balland overlooks Bangladesh’s herculean humanitarian response to the crisis, including the construction of schools, living quarters, hospitals and the provision of vaccines, medicines, food and clean drinking water. Bangladesh’s efforts have drawn praise from many important officials from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to Pope Francis.

Balland fails to accept a physical fact – the already crowded Bangladesh cannot absorb the more than 1 million Rohingya refugees residing inside the country. From the standpoint of security, infrastructure and economics – and compliance with Bangladesh’s constitution – permanent residency is not a viable option. In the meantime, Bangladesh is doing everything it can to help them.

Mohammad Ziauddin, Ambassador of Bangladesh to the US
Washington, DC

Mohammad Ziauddin

Mohammad Ziauddin is Bangladesh ambassador to the United States of America and concurrently accredited to Argentina, Belize, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guyana and Venezuela. He is also the Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the Organization of American States. Prior to his appointment as ambassador to the US, he was ambassador-at-large of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina with the rank and status of state minister.

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