Myanmar-Bangladesh: What kind of stupid narrow politics of UNHCR regarding food assistance to 23 Rohingyas. By John Rozario

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Bangladesh and Myanmar are moving forward with the Rohingya repatriation plan a pilot project. However, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has taken a stand against repatriation in Myanmar's current situation. And as part of this, the organization stopped the food aid of 23 Rohingya families of four who voluntarily agreed to go to Myanmar last Monday. In such a context, yesterday, the Bangladesh government warned by summoning the representative of UNHCR in Bangladesh, Johannes van der Klok, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dhaka. Bangladesh wanted to know from the UNHCR representative about the reason and in what context the UNHCR has stopped the food aid to the four Rohingya families. However, UNHCR has again provided food and emergency aid. That assistance resumed on Tuesday, a day after it was suspended. But UNHCR did not disclose why the food aid has been stopped primarily. In this regard, a report was published in the media on Monday. 

The Bangladesh government has warned the UN refugee agency not to obstruct any repatriation activities. Dhaka has urged to comply with the agreement that the organization has with the government regarding the care of Rohingyas. After the Rohingya influx in 2017, the government signed an agreement with the United Nations Refugee Agency to take care of the Rohingya. According to the agreement, the Rohingya are willing to go or not? It is the responsibility of that organization to see that. But under no circumstances has UNHCR been given the right to influence the decisions of the displaced. There must not be a negative campaign about it.

UNHCR's Deputy High Commissioner Kelly Clements visited Cox's Bazar ahead of the decision to stop food aid to Rohingyas seeking to return to Myanmar. During that visit, she emphasized on not sending Rohingyas back by force in any way. In this regard, Bangladesh is also committed to voluntary repatriation. 

However, we can say the reason behind the discontinuation of the food assistance. The head of the refugee agency has been asked on what basis the four families were deprived of ration. However, the refugee agency admitted their mistake and said - they are a bit confused where the Rohingyas will be (camps or Bashan Char). In response to this, the organization was told that it is not their responsibility to see where the Rohingyas will stay. Wherever the Rohingyas stay, they should be given food and emergency services. 

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, said conditions in Myanmar's Rakhine State are currently "not conducive" to the sustainable return of Rohingya refugees. UNHCR is not involved in these discussions," it said in a statement on Bangladesh, Myanmar pilot project on Rohingya returns. The statement was shared by the UNHCR Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific on Sunday (March 19, 2023) night.

Bangladesh's top priority is Rohingya repatriation, as more than 1 million Rohingya have been staying here for 6 years. Efforts are underway to repatriate a small group to Rakhine under a pilot project. Bangladesh wants international organizations to help in this. The Rohingyas will be repatriated based on their consent, but the country will not accept anyone giving different advice or influencing those who want to go.

Recently a UN reporter commented that the situation in Rakhine is not conducive to repatriation. Did the reporter get this information from the United Nations?

A section of the international community is playing politics with the Rohingyas in the camps in Cox’s Bazar. Due to this, their repatriation process is becoming difficult at times. Unfortunately, we are noticing that various international circles are doing their own style of politics with the Rohingyas. It is difficult to say how much these quarters will see the interests of Bangladesh, or the Rohingyas. The Rohingyas are expected to return to a slightly better environment than the environment from which they crossed the Myanmar border into Bangladesh. Because the state system of Myanmar will not change overnight. This may not change even in the next 10-20 years. While the junta is killing people day after day, the hope that the Rohingyas will be repatriated to a different status with full citizenship is simply not realistic. This is a harmful thought for the Rohingyas. It is now important to ensure the status they had earlier.

While Bangladesh and Myanmar are preparing their returnee lists and facilitating the repatriation, INGOs and NGOs are expressing concerns over the plan. They are mainly objecting that the environment in Rakhine is not conducive enough for any repatriation at this moment. They are also condemning the Junta and labeling the plan as an eye wash. Prominent INGOs and NGOs including UNHCR and HRW have already given statements clearing their stance on the plan. They want Bangladesh to halt the program. 

The international community and the great powers did little to pressurize the Junta to repatriate the Rohingya. Prior to Junta, the international community also failed to convince the democratic government to repatriate the Rohingya and bring the perpetrators to justice. Bangladesh has tried bilaterally, trilaterally, and multilaterally for the past six years for a viable solution. It has left no stone unturned, yet found nothing. Bangladesh eagerly wants to explore the initiative as something is better than nothing. Owing to bilateral political, economic, connectivity, and economic issues, Bangladesh itself has to solve the problem.

While Bangladesh- the guardian of the Rohingya on the global stage is trying heart and soul to repatriate the Rohingya to their birthplace, the NGOs are not doing enough for the most persecuted community of our time. The UNHCR and other NGOs are only maintaining the camps. Due to other emerging crises and donor fatigue, these NGOs are also reducing their effort in every aspect after six years. Recently, WFP reduced its monthly per capita ration from only $12 to $10 citing fund shortage.

Advocacy networks such as UNHCR, HRW, and Amnesty International failed to create effective pressure on Myanmar. Like the NGOs, the Great powers also failed to pressurize Myanmar effectively. As a result, Bangladesh is carrying the burden alone. The declining fund, deteriorating camp conditions, growing insecurity, and adverse impact of the refugees on the host community have made Bangladesh a desperate host looking for reducing the burden, where its international partners are only performing their formal duties within a set boundary. This crisis is also destabilizing regional security. The Rohingya cannot consistently receive food, shelter, and medical care due to Bangladesh's limited economic capabilities. It is important to note that aid for the Rohingya is decreasing daily. The current Ukraine conflict has the entire world on edge. Although the world community has lost sight of the Rohingya humanitarian issue as a result of the war in Ukraine

Moreover, the ‘conducive environment’ debate is also a politically biased one. As the Junta is repatriating, it is guaranteeing their safety. The other stakeholders of Rakhine and Myanmar, the Arakan Army (AA) and the National Unity Government (NUG) have already recognized the Rohingya. Furthermore, it also has the responsibility of international community to provide an external guarantee for Rohingya’s safety upon repatriation. Therefore, it may not be unsafe to explore the possibilities of repatriation with the Junta. It seems the NGOs are driven by their own compulsion of lengthening ‘projects’ and squeeze their donors displaying the plight of the refugee community.

In a nutshell, the repatriation plan will reduce Bangladesh’s burden at least to some extent. The World community should not go against it; instead, they should come forward and engage effectively to ensure the rapid repatriation of the rest of the refugees. The NGOs and Advocacy networks should also scale up their activity rather than reacting compulsively. The Rohingya situation needs to be resolved successfully and permanently, according to the entire globe. For the Rohingya people to return from Bangladesh to Myanmar with safety and dignity, the successful implementation of the pilot project is necessary. Stupid narrow politics of UNHCR must be stopped in this regard.

 

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