Envisage of the Future Prospects of the Rohingyas in Bangladesh and Myanmar
Bangladesh and India are closely linked to the Rohingya people of western Myanmar (formerly known as Burma until 1989). The Rohingyas are Muslim, like their counterparts in Bangladesh. They are said to be partially descended from Persian, Moorish, and Arab mariners in addition to their Bengali origin. The Rohingya people embraced Islam sometime around the 12th century. When Bengal and Arakan were allies in earlier centuries, their knowledge of science and the arts had an influence on the Buddhist Rakhine kings of Arakan. Generally speaking, the Muslims and their Buddhist Rakhine neighbors coexisted harmoniously. They were favorite of all among kings and even played a big role during British colonization (Gall & Hobby, 1047). Northern Arakan was initially a part of India’s Bengal region during the British colonial era before the British decided to make Arakan a part of Burma. The Rohingyas assisted the British in fighting their way back into Burma through Arakan and fending off the Japanese invaders when World War II reached Burma.
The Rohingya crisis is not a recent matter but it started even before the independence of Bangladesh. In 1942, Bangladesh was known as East Pakistan and was a part of Pakistan At that time, tens of thousands of Rohingyas fled across the border because of the anti-Muslim violence in Arakan. The Rohingya people had hoped for their own Muslim state when Burma gained independence in 1948. However, they were combined with majority Rakhine territories in Arakan State, which is recognized today as Rakhine State. After World War II, tensions between Rakhines and Rohingyas intensified. Meanwhile, government discrimination against the Rohingyas began with regard to citizenship legislation and travel restrictions within Burma (Gall & Hobby, 1047).The situation for Muslims in Rakhine State worsened when the central Burmese government was overthrown by the military in 1962. They were seen as a relic from colonial days, when the British sent many workers from India to Burma, and a danger to the largely Burmese power system. The military of the government engaged in a systematic campaign of human rights abuses against the Rohingyas, who were labeled “illegal immigrants.” More than 200,000 people crossed the border into Bangladesh to escape. In 2012, the Rohingya population’s prospects in Myanmar significantly deteriorated. Throughout that year, a number of incidents of intercommunal conflict sparked riots and a widespread campaign of persecution against the Rohingya, which in turn caused widespread eviction, property damage, and an unspecified number of fatalities (Gall & Hobby,1047).
The genocide that took place in 2017 was a vicious act of Islamophobia. The Myanmar military, along with Buddhist extremist groups staged the genocide which claimed the lives of almost 24,000 Rohingya( (Bakali, 54). Together with Buddhist radicals, the Myanmar military implemented a “scorched earth” strategy setting entire Rohingya communities on fire, raping numerous women and girls, and randomly killing people. Between August 25 and September 24, 2017, over 9,400 Rohingya were killed in the Rakhine state, with at least 730 children. Because they belonged to a Muslim minority ethnic group that was distinct from the Burman Buddhist majority. Thousands of Rohingya people were traumatized by violent assaults, sexual assaults, and the demolition of their homes (Bakali, 54).In September 2018, Canada declared the crimes the Myanmar military had committed against the Rohingya to be genocide and urged the UN Security Council to take action. Moreover, Myanmar was charged with genocide in a lawsuit brought by The Gambia in November 2019 before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) then unanimously ordered Myanmar to take all necessary precautions to prevent the genocide of the existing Rohingya in Myanmar, including the avoidance of murder, on January 23, 2020(Bakali, 55).
Islamophobia and the genocide did not happen in a day or two but its root goes way deeper than one can think. The Rohingya were one of numerous indigenous communities living in Burma’s Arakan area before colonialism. The exact date the Rohingya arrived in Arakan is unknown. As a result, there is compelling evidence that the Rohingya are native to the Arakan region and have been for many years. During the years of British colonial control over Burma from 1824–1948, tensions between the Rohingya and the country’s majority Buddhist Burman population grew. During this time, the colonizers granted Muslim minorities advantage over the Buddhist majority in terms of social mobility and colony governance. When the Japanese invaded Myanmar during the Second World War, this created further stress. The Rohingya had sided against the Japanese and Burma was at Japan’s side .The Burman majority regarded the loyalty of the Rohingya as in tension with their continued loyalty to the British. These relationships became even more strained after the 1947 India-Pakistan split, the Rohingya attempted in vain to have some of Rakhine State annex to East Pakistan (Bakali, 58). The British Empire had the same plan for all their colonies which is to divide and rule and after interfering into a major administrative power of different places, they left everything behind creating chaos and riots.
Religion is one of the main themes of the Rohingya crisis. Land grabbing and resource collection from the regional area are also reasons behind this massacre. In Myanmar, land theft and confiscation are common. Military juntas have been stealing smallholders’ land nationwide since the 1990s, regardless of their race or religious affiliation, and without offering any sort of compensation. Land has frequently been purchased for “development” initiatives such as military base expansions, the exploitation and extraction of natural resources, huge agricultural projects, infrastructural improvements, and tourism. For instance, the military took more than 500 acres of peasants’ land in Kachin state to fund widespread gold mining. Furthermore, Myanmar is situated between nations like China and India that have long been interested in its resources. Chinese businesses have been using Shan State in the North’s forests, rivers, and minerals since the 1990s.Chinese and Indian interests in Rakhine State are a part of more general China-India ties. The building of pipelines and other infrastructure in the area is at the center of these interests. These initiatives assert that they will provide everyone of Myanmar with employment opportunities, transit fees, and oil and gas profits. A transnational pipeline constructed by China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) linking Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine, to Kunming, China, is one of many development initiatives that started operating in September 2013. The larger initiatives to transport gas and oil from the Shwe gas field in Myanmar to Guangzhou, China, are widely known (Forino et Al). This is how Rohingyas are trapped between every possible pressure where religion and international affairs are pressing them to flee from their own country where they are marginalized and treated very insignificantly where they either die or wait to die.
Since August 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees have entered Bangladesh’s southern regions from Myanmar’s Rakhine State. They have merged with the thousands of people who were already residing in refugee camps or in nearby communities. 600,000 people are crammed into the main camp, which is much too tiny to hold that many people. More than half of them are women and girls, and 60% are young people under the age of 18.They joined their fellow refugees who were already based in Cox’s Bazar’s Ukhiya and Teknaf upazilas. According to a World Bank assessment, the region is now home to nearly 1.1 million Rohingya refugees which is three times the native population(The Business Standard). There is a clash between the refugees and the locals because of various perspectives and views. The locals have a lot of grudge towards the Rohingyas for taking a lot of land and destroying the natural resources. Bangladesh is already jam-packed with a huge amount of population, Rohingyas created a situation which has been challenging for Bangladesh since day 1. The enormous and excessive Rohingya population has worsened the socioeconomic condition in Cox’s Bazar over the past three years and caused a humanitarian catastrophe among the host community. Over 6,800 acres of forest land have been used to house Rohingyas, harming the ecosystem and environment of the region and drastically reducing agricultural output(The Business Standard).The river and land boundary between present-day Bangladesh and Myanmar have a fractious past. Their Exchanges of ideas and conquests date back to pre-colonial times, a trait that, in the area, is now more of a cultural frontier than a border as a result of recent events involving two states.
Though Malaysia, Thailand, and other nations also subscribe to the host country, Bangladesh is its main proponent. It maintains that the Rohingya are a burden and a security threat, as well as victims and opportunists .While acknowledging that the Rohingya experience prejudice and even persecution within Burma, but there are individuals who have left persecution as opportunistic economic migrants who place undue strain on the labor market and societal systems. They are in Bangladesh for a better life and they are slowly becoming citizens,while the Rohingya are still inside of Burma getting killed and treated as hostiles. These contradictory policies and behaviors have resulted into economic and social contradictions in Bangladesh. A few Rohingya people live in Bangladesh, this is the label the world is seeing but less than 30,000 Rohingya are officially recognized as refugees in Bangladesh, but a much bigger group over 300,000 who share the same traits are labeled as economic migrants who are “irregular.” Both groups are viewed as strains on the already overburdened both as risks to national security and state resources (Guhathakurta).
Bangladesh government sectors as well as the private sectors are trying their best to cope up with this situation which is honored and recognized throughout the world. Water-borne infections have consequently become a major issue in the area, and health and sanitation have become important concerns in camp areas as a result of fecal contamination in surface and groundwater reservoirs. The government had to pay BDT 2,312 crore to move 1 lakh of these Rohingyas to Bhashan Char since it was unable to repatriate this enormous number of people. Large foreign grants have also been mobilized, including $590 million from the World Bank and $100 million from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).Additionally, they allocated Tk202 crore in the budget for the current fiscal year and spent Tk200 crore from the 2019–20 budget on social safety net programs(The Business Standard).
In 2022, Rohingyas are in an improved condition than 2017. There are both good and bad sides to this improvement. Where do Rohingya women and children stand in today’s Bangladesh as refugees? When the private NGOs such as Brac came forward to help the women and children, it was not welcomed because of the tendency of the Rohingya men hiding women as a practice back in Myanmar because they used to hide women from Myanmar army so they can save their mothers and sisters from getting raped and killed(Tabassum). This situation has improved and women are now actively participating in volunteering jobs and becoming self-sufficient. These days, there are more jobs available for Rohingya women. Women from the Rohingya community who have prior work experience are applying to jobs with better remuneration. Women from the Rohingya community are currently employed by numerous organizations in various positions. Their husbands, parents, and other family members support them and assist them with housework to help them manage their personal and professional lives easier (Tabassum). During the Covid 19 pandemic, everything became tough and also the Rohingya community had a large number of children with them. Private NGOs created many opportunities to keep these children inside homes as COVID-19 was a universal life threat. Parents emphasized the importance of having access to formal education at schools, particularly Islamic institutions. In the Rohingya community, religion is crucial in many facets of life. They also begin attending the Maqtab, or Arabic school, and eventually begin formal education at age five. In the camps there are a lot of Maqtabs, free schools, and learning facilities where kids can go. The learning centers were established for the wellbeing of the children of this community (Rahman et al, 1-14).
The future seems uncertain for the Rohingyas in Bangladesh or Myanmar. The youth are in the biggest threat as they are literally fighting every day to eat three meals. They are not getting any education. They are not even allowed to marry locals for which human trafficking is increasing because they are bringing in girls from Myanmar to marry and settle (Tayeb). Moreover, everyone is aware of their own life, every day the Rohingyas are traveling illegally to other countries in search of a better life ending in tragedy. It is impossible to establish a good life or future in a country where they are nothing but refugees. They are not independent but in a stateless situation. They don’t have any opportunities for jobs or establishing themselves thus getting into drug trafficking and illegal sex business (Tayeb). Mostly women are getting involved with prostitution creating a lot of health related problems.
In addition, for the Rohingyas in Bangladesh, the emergency has grown into a protracted one. In response to the enormous exodus in 2017, a majority of the camps that were created for the entering Rohingyas in and around Cox’s Bazar were erected on uneven, sandy slopes. Since then, landslides and flooding have posed a persistent threat to these unofficial settlements. April marks the start of Bangladesh’s primary cyclone season, making this the period when Rohingyas are most at risk. These rainy seasons can also promote waterborne infections in crowded camps without adequate water and sanitation services, in addition to shelters vulnerable to demolition from strong winds. Children and the elderly are particularly at risk from this. Bangladesh is also experiencing its monsoon season, which lasts from July to October and poses similar difficulties. Lastly, refugees are tortured brutally by Bangladeshi authorities because of power showdown in the name of rules and authorization. Kids are being tortured and beaten by the authorities are regular complaints from the camps(Human Rights Watch).Can anyone live in this kind of situation? Myanmar is also not eager to take back their own people and the refugees are too afraid to go back as they will be threatened and killed. Bangladesh tried to mitigate this situation with Myanmar many times but nothing improved. The international aid givers should take this matter seriously. The Bangladeshi government should take some progressive steps for the betterment of the Rohingyas situation, as they are also a people with the will and right to live. Politics play a great role in deciding the outcome of this crisis. Myanmar is backed up by China which is one of the biggest world powers right now. Bangladesh won’t get into trouble for Rohingyas because China currently has a lot of mega projects in Bangladesh and if they stop the funding and help Bangladesh will suffer a lot more than the Rohingyas. Thus, the Rohingyas’ future is at grave risk in this country as well as Myanmar. Without assistance from the world powers, the situation of the Rohingyas will only deteriorate.
Bakali, Naved. “Islamophobia in Myanmar: The Rohingya Genocide and the ‘War on Terror.’” Race & Class, vol. 62, no. 4, 2021, pp. 53–71., https://doi.org/10.1177/0306396820977753.
Forino, Giuseppe, et al. “Religion Is Not the Only Reason Rohingyas Are Being Forced out of Myanmar.” The Conversation, 14 Oct. 2022, https://theconversation.com/religion-is-not-the-only-reason-rohingyas-are-being-forced-out-of-myanmar-83726.
Gall, Timothy L., and Jeneen Hobby. Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life. Gale, 2009.
Rahman, Atiya, et al. “The Well-Being of Rohingya Children in Rohingya Camps of Bangladesh during the Covid 19 Pandemic: A Qualitative Exploration.” Early Child Development and Care, 2022, pp. 1–14., https://doi.org/10.1080/03004430.2022.2106979.
Tabassum, Syeda Sayka. “Transformation of Rohingya Women: Where Do They Stand Now.” The Financial Express, https://thefinancialexpress.com.bd/views/transformation-of-rohingya-women-where-do-they-stand-now-1656242220.
Tayeb, Tasneem. “Trafficking in Rohingya: Exploiting the Desperate.” The Daily Star, 6 Dec. 2019,https://www.thedailystar.net/opinion/closer-look/news/trafficking-rohingya-exploiting-the-desperate-1836772#:~:text=Fear%20of%20social%20stigma%20and,of%20their%20dignity%20and%20pay.