The Rohingya crisis has the potential to “destabilise” the region though it is a humanitarian issue at present, Bangladesh today said, insisting that India is on the same page. Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque, who met his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval on Thursday, said they discussed all aspects of the issue, with the continuing influx of Rohingya refugees from Mynamar figuring “prominently”.
Terming the violence in Rakhine state as “ethnic cleansing”, Haque said the international community has been made aware of how Myanmar was “snatching the rights” of the Rohingyas. “It is not only people’s movement but it is also a security issue, a border issue, which has the potential to destabilise the region, not just areas in Myanmar and Bangladesh,” he told reporters during a briefing at the Bangladesh High Commission here.
He asserted that Bangladesh’s position is clear that the problem has been created in Myanmar and the solution lies there. He said Dhaka wants the refugees to return “as soon as possible”. Myanmar had recently proposed to take back over half a million Rohingyas from Bangladesh and the two countries agreed to set up a working group to coordinate the repatriation of the minority Muslims.
Haque said a working group has been set up by Bangladesh and Myanmar to hammer out a solution after Dhaka handed over a written proposal suggesting solutions. “It’s a normal way of sending people to their own country through a process. We proposed that we should also involve international bodies in the process because the numbers are large,” he said.
Asked about India’s position that the Rohingyas pose a security threat, Haque said there are possibilities of radicalisation wherever there is large scale movement of people, but Bangladesh has been able to contain the situation so far. “Not that it always becomes (a security threat), depends on how you manage it. So far the government of Bangladesh has been able to contain that. It has not moved into a security area.
“The population continues to remain neutral. They all look forward to go back. It is the responsibility of the State not to allow it (radicalisation) to happen,” he said. The Bangladesh foreign secretary said there is a tendency to view such issues from the prism of radicalisation, but that obfuscates the fact that it is above all a humanitarian issue, involving women and children who “need support”.
He also refused to comment on India’s proposal to deport around 40,000 odd Rohingyas who are settled in camps across the country. “But I am sure at the end humanitarian issues will also get due consideration.” “India has been with Bangladesh during difficult times like in 1971 or subsequently. They are our closest partner. We agreed this is a huge burden on Bangladesh and it has potential to destabilise the region. I think we were speaking in the same language,” he said.
On reports of mass graves of Hindus found in the violence-hit region, Haque said those who are committing the “ethnic cleansing” are not really differentiating in terms of religion. “This is part of ethnic cleansing. Once there is ethnic cleansing I do not think people who commit ethnic cleansing make separation between Muslims and Hindus. They want to clear the whole area to set up a free zone I am told. It is the government’s responsibility to protect all its citizens,” he said.
Around 5.15 lakh Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh over the last five weeks after militant attacks on police check-posts in the Buddhist majority country sparked violent reprisals. The latest influx of refugees began on August 25 when Myanmar’s military launched a crackdown in the northern Rakhine state over alleged terrorist attacks on its police outposts.
There are now more than 800,000 refugees living near Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar. Rohingya, a Muslim minority, do not qualify for Myanmar citizenship even though many have lived there for generations while its army insists they are interlopers from across the border in Bangladesh.