refugee crisis

Banishing refugees to a flood-prone island will not solve Bangladesh’s Rohingya refugee crisis

The idea of relocating thousands of Rohingya refugees to a remote flood-prone island would set a bad precedent for managing human rights crises.

Hundreds of hard-line Buddhist monks in Myanmar protested on March 19 against a proposal to grant citizenship to the country’s persecuted Muslim minority, the Rohingya who are excluded from the Citizenship law of 1982.

The demonstrations came after the Rakhine Advisory Commission, led by former UN chief Kofi Annan, urged Myanmar’s government to reconsider the ethnic group’s legal status. The government actually does not recognise the existence of Rohingya and rather considers them as Bengali.

Stripped of their basic rights, community members have been submitted to extreme violence and atrocities in Myanmar. More than 87,000 people have been displaced since October. For years now, many have fled to neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh, where they live a life in limbo.

State counsellor Aung Saan Suu Kyi has thus far remained silent on the issue.

Rohingya refugees return to their makeshift home at Kutupalang Unregistered Refugee Camp, Bangladesh. ( Photo credit: Mohammad Ponir Hossain / Reuters )
Rohingya refugees return to their makeshift home at Kutupalang Unregistered Refugee Camp, Bangladesh. ( Photo credit: Mohammad Ponir Hossain / Reuters )

Bangladesh has some 32,000 registered refugees in two official camps located mainly in the Cox’s Bazar district bordering the eastern Rakhine State. An additional 200,000 to 500,000 unregistered refugees live in makeshift camps there, alongside locals.

Having faced a continuous flow of Rohingya refugees for over two decades, the Bangladesh government is now planning to relocate the refugees to a remote island in Noakhali district, Thengar Char, about 250 km northwest of current camps.

The government says the move would improve refugees’ access to humanitarian assistance. But Rohingya refugees reportedly oppose the plan, and human rights groups have urged the government to cancel the plan, which the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network has declared to be “dangerous, absurd and inhumane”. Rights groups argue that the island is uninhabitable: it rose from the sea only 11 years ago and is highly prone to flooding and cyclones.

Source: Reuters.
Source: Reuters.

Local integration

The Bangladeshi people of Cox’s Bazar and the Rohingya refugees share a common dialect and culture. As a result, law enforcement forces cannot always differentiate between refugees and locals. Despite restrictions on their ability to work, many refugees find employment in the informal sector, and some children go to local schools. The government has reluctantly allowed the refugees to stay so far, but it is clearly concerned that such opportunities will lead to integration.

Thengar Char is a remote island in the most literal sense. The nearest sub-district office, Hatiya, is two hours away by boat. The surrounding areas are poor and underdeveloped.

For the government, it is easier to manage a refugee population that is concentrated on Thengar Char. Locals there do not speak the same dialect as Rohingyas, decreasing the potential for integration. It will also be practically impossible for them to seek employment and education outside the camp.

Challenges for humanitarian agencies

But the relocation would also make it very difficult for the UNHCR/UN Refugee Agency International Organisation for Migration and local NGOs to provide humanitarian services. Currently, agencies are mainly based in Cox’s Bazar, a popular Bangladeshi tourist destination with the longest sea-beach in the world. It is well connected to Bangladesh and other parts of the world by land and air and offers staff the comforts of living in a city, including basic facilities and security.

Ukranian tourists attract the attention of locals on Cox’s Bazar beach.( Photo credit: Matt Zanon / Wikimedia, CC BY-ND )
Ukranian tourists attract the attention of locals on Cox’s Bazar beach.( Photo credit: Matt Zanon / Wikimedia, CC BY-ND )

Thengar Char, on the other hand, is an exceptional place in overpopulated Bangladesh: it has no human settlement. Villagers who live nearby complain of pirates roaming the nearby waters, stealing goods and holding people hostage. The area’s security risks and remoteness may discourage humanitarian agency staffers from relocating there.

Possibilities of a human catastrophe

The Bangladesh forest department has warned that the Thengar Char island is not yet suitable for human habitation, writing in a letter that:

The soil and environment of Thengar Char is not yet suitable for human settlement. The island is submerged in water during monsoon. Though it emerges during dry season, most of the island goes under water at high tide.

Cyclone are of significant concern. According to a catalogue of tropical storms in Bangladesh, 193 cyclones struck the country between 1484 and 2009. Arguably the deadliest tropical cyclone in history hit the region in 1970, battering the coast with a six-metre storm surge and killing some 300,000 people. If even a small-scale cyclone hits the proposed Rohingya camp, a human catastrophe is nearly certain.

The Noakhali district administration has written that the government would also have to “build flood protection embankment, cyclone centres and necessary infrastructure and ensure supply of drinking water” before receiving the Rohingyas in the Thengar Char.

Lost connections

For the Rohingyas, current border camps in Cox’s Bazar are close to home not just culturally but also geographically. For some, crossing into Bangladesh is as easy as wading through a little creek on foot or taking a short boat trip.

When Myanmar erupts in violence, many Rohingyas seek safety in Bangladesh, and, when it ends, some of them head back home. There is usually no asylum application, refugee-status determination procedure or UN-assisted voluntary repatriation; registration was last done in 1992. The country’s hundreds of thousands of unregistered Rohingya migrants live in limbo, as Bangladesh lacks specific refugee laws.

Rohingya fishermen near a refugee camp in Teknaf, 2011. ( Photo credit: Andrew Biraj / Reuters )
Rohingya fishermen near a refugee camp in Teknaf, 2011. ( Photo credit: Andrew Biraj / Reuters )

During relative peace, many Rohingyas also cross the border to seek medical treatment, education, marriage, daily shopping trips, or to visit relatives. Some will embark on a secondary migration, heading to Saudi Arabia or Malaysia. Many of these practices likely violate Bangladeshi law, but they are locally accepted and have been going on for generations.

Newly arrived refugees or migrants often get shelter and other assistance from relatives already living in Bangladesh’s camps. Many refugees in the camp also act as bridge between Rohingyas living in Myanmar and the diaspora of approximately one million others who live around the world.

Indirect force for repatriation?

Bangladesh has been negotiating with Myanmar to repatriate the Rohingyas. Many Rohingyas in Bangladesh have expressed their willingness to go back to their homeland if state authorities can ensure their safety.

However, the risk of persecution and violence in Myanmar remains high, and most refugees do not consider it safe there. International law requires that the Bangladeshi government only send back refugees who would voluntarily repatriate.

If the alternative to life in Myanmar is banishment to Thengar Char, many Rohingyas might “agree” to return rather than face a dangerous and uncertain future on a remote island of Bangladesh.

Ashraful Azad, Assistant professor, International Relations, University of Chittagong

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

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It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

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