“The Rohingya Amongst Us”: Bangladeshi Perspectives on the Rohingya Crisis Survey

Report
from Xchange
Published on 28 Aug 2018 View Original

“HOW MANY TIMES THEY WILL LIVE AS NOMADS? THEIR REPATRIATION IS MOST NEEDED.” 50-YEAR-OLD BANGLADESHI MALE, NHILLA

INTRODUCTION

August 25, 2018 marks one year since the beginning of an aggressive Myanmar military “crackdown”, a disproportionate and indiscriminate campaign in response to coordinated attacks by Rohingya insurgents. The military’s self-described “clearance operations” drove an estimated 706,000 Rohingya Muslims en masse across the border from Myanmar into Bangladesh in what is now the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world. [1] As demonstrated in Xchange’s Rohingya Survey 2017, [2] those who fled the most recent eruption of violence suffered considerable trauma as a result of a widespread campaign of murder, rape, and arson tantamount to crimes against humanity. [3] One year on, the result of this campaign of state-sponsored violence is the near-eradication of the Rohingya population from northern Rakhine State and an ongoing humanitarian emergency in Bangladesh, where the Rohingya population in some areas outnumber surrounding host communities by a ratio of two to one. [4]

Prior to this most recent influx, Bangladesh was already host to more than 200,000 documented Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, who had fled past ‘crackdowns’ by the Myanmar military, the most significant of which occurred in 1978 and 1991-1992. [5] 

Bangladesh has shown compassion in their openness toward the fleeing Rohingya by providing temporary shelter, keeping their borders open and, with the help of the international community, leading the humanitarian response on this issue. However, the sheer scale and speed of the most recent influx of Rohingya refugees has inevitably had an economic, social, political, environmental, and security impact on the host communities in Cox’s Bazar district, where the Rohingya refugees have almost universally settled. The district is one of the most impoverished regions of Bangladesh, already struggling to cope with extreme poverty, high population density, and the effects of regular natural disasters and climate change. [6]

Like most countries in Asia, Bangladesh is not signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, [7] meaning there are few domestic legal mechanisms for handling asylum cases. [8] As a result, the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) does not recognise the Rohingya as refugees, but rather “Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals” (FDMN), denying the Rohingya legal refugee status and the rights associated with this. [9]

The Rohingya have been living tenuous lives within sprawling refugee camps, denied freedom of movement, access to education, livelihoods and public services. [10] Durable solutions or long-term development strategies for this protracted refugee situation for both refugees and affected local Bangladeshi communities are close to non-existent. [11] Instead, the GoB has promoted repatriation and resettlement strategies as the preferred long-term solutions. The alternative, integration, implies a sense of permanence. In light of the upcoming national elections later in 2018 where domestic issues and national interests will continue to be prioritised, the GoB seems reluctant to support integration-based policies.

Following the events of late 2017, the Bangladesh and Myanmar governments agreed in January 2018 to begin a two-year process to repatriate the 770,000-plus Rohingya Muslims who had fled Rakhine State since October 2016. [12] However, the GoB delayed repatriation amid criticism that any returns would be premature and as Rohingya refugees continue to cross the border seeking safety in Bangladesh.[13] In April 2018, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by UNHCR and the GoB established a framework of cooperation for the “safe, voluntary, and dignified returns of refugees in line with international standards.” [14] A tripartite repatriation deal between the governments of Bangladesh, Myanmar and UNHCR is still in progress.

Since then, 400 Rohingya have been verified for repatriation and one family has been returned, though many rights groups claim this was staged. [15] Both historical experience and Myanmar’s failure to provide conditions for safe and voluntary return, suggest that large-scale repatriation is unlikely in the foreseeable future. [16]

Despite the restrictions placed on them, the Rohingya community in Bangladesh has shown considerable resilience. Outside the parameters of the national asylum system and beyond the confines of the camps, the Rohingya have been working informally in an effort to take their livelihoods and family finances into their own hands. [17] However, there are no government-led long-term or permanent development solutions in sight, nor any infrastructure to support the Rohingya in the long term. [18] This has significant consequences for the locals, including the burdening of public expenditure, service delivery, the labour market, and increased tension and competition between the two communities. [19]

In 2017, Xchange established a presence on the ground in Cox’s Bazar district, at the epicentre of the refugee settlement area, and has been closely monitoring developments on the ground ever since.

In our recent Rohingya surveysXchange documented the nature of the Rohingya population’s day-to-day lives and conditions they experience in the camps of Bangladesh. We also examined what the Rohingya understand about the details of the proposed repatriation processes, looking at what they desire and the fears they hold, both as individuals and as a community who potentially face repatriation (or refoulement) to Myanmar.

With little attention given to the real impacts on and perceptions of the host and local Bangladeshi communities, a more holistic response to this refugee crisis is therefore necessary; one that must include both the Rohingya refugees and local Bangladeshi communities as stakeholders. [20] In light of this, this survey seeks to understand the Bangladeshi host communities’ perceptions of the Rohingya refugees, including the relationship between the two communities, the most noticeable changes since the Rohingya’s most recent arrivals from 2016 onward, and their opinions about the proposed Rohingya repatriation deal and process.

Between June 30 and July 21, the Xchange team interviewed a total of 1,708 Bangladeshi locals in Teknaf and Ukhia upazilas (subdistricts) in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Of these, 1,697 surveys were considered for analysis.