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The Rohingya Refugee Crisis: Bangladesh Seeks Solutions

Due to high levels of harassment, intimidation and conflict deaths in Myanmar (also called Burma) that is openly carried out by hostile Buddhists and (purportedly) by Burmese government troops, some 400,000 Rohingya muslims have fled in recent days to neighbouring Bangladesh.

The refugees are arriving tired, afraid, hungry and disoriented as they flee their burning villages. Sixty per cent of those fleeing, are women and children.

It’s not that Burma hasn’t any Muslims. On the contrary, 4.3 per cent of the country are Muslim (about 2.6 million in total) while 88 per cent (46 million) are Buddhist and 6 per cent are Christian.

What’s different for the Muslims in Burma is that due to arcane Burmese law, they aren’t allowed to own real estate (land or buildings) because they aren’t recognized as citizens due to the fact they can’t prove their ancestors lived there prior to 1823. The Rohingya are… human beings without a country.

In recent years over 100,000 have fled to nearby countries to work or to ask for refugee status. Most of them didn’t qualify for Burmese citizenship in the first place — and therefore arrived in a totally new country with no birth certificate, passport, other reliable identification, or even a family address. Intolerable, doesn’t begin to describe it.

Which is why hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas have landed across the border in Bangladesh since August 25th. Up to 2.3 million more may arrive in the coming months if all Burmese muslims flee the country. If the present situation is any indication, it looks like all of them will leave Burma.


Why Not Just Go Back?

Burmese Rohingyas have nothing to return to, only burned out villages and increasingly hostile citizens. And once having crossed over into Bangladesh, they can’t cross back into the country in which they were born because they have no legal identification to show to Burmese border guards other than a long-distance telephone calling card (if they’re lucky) and no family address that is recognized by the Burmese authorities.

Myanmar laying landmines on Bangladesh border (so that Rohingyas can’t return) (Al Jazeera)


Following Burma's fleeing Rohingya

Since the late 1970’s: Following Burma’s fleeing Rohingya. Image courtesy of Al Jazeera


Bangladesh: The Promised Land for the Rohingya

For decades, the Rohingya have been leaving Burma for Bangladesh and other southeast Asian nations, seeking employment and a chance at a new life.

In those places, if they can find employment they can eventually apply for citizenship and become an actual citizen, with an actual street address, and be a person with an actual job and a real life. If you’re a factory owner that hires a Rohingya, you know they are highly motivated to succeed and that they will be the least problematic of all your workers.

However, even a successful economy like Bangladesh can’t accept millions of refugees in a matter of weeks. The country is doing relatively well for a developing nation and continues to improve its infrastructure and the lives of its citizens every year.

Bangladesh is ranked surprisingly highly by development agencies, and is often referred to ‘one of the next-11’ countries after the G20 countries.

An interesting note about Bangladesh is that they are the largest contributor in the world to UN peacekeeping missions — providing tough, fully trained troops for many UN operations. (The UN pays the wages of the Bangladesh soldiers under its command and supplies many of the tanks and APC’s that Bangla soldiers use while on UN missions, which is a standard practice for the United Nations)


What Will it Take to Help the Rohingya?

  1. Plenty of international aid money
  2. Acceptance by Bangladesh citizens

In the southern region of Bangladesh, 409,000 Rohingya are being held in camps stretching along the border with Burma. While 60 per cent of the refugees are women and children, Bangladeshis worry about young Rohingya males who may have been exposed to extremist thought and could conceivably at least, act against Bangladesh citizens in the future. So far, nothing like that has been reported.

However, keeping hundreds of thousands of refugees in miserable and makeshift camps in hot and humid weather isn’t going to help anyone’s mood.

Even if the Rohingyas arrived there never having imagined a terrorist thought in their life, a year of living under those conditions won’t help to keep violent acts out of the minds of young men, who, like young men everywhere, are prone to acting on a perceived problem without properly thinking it through.

‘No words’ to describe Bangladesh camps, Red Cross says (abc.au)

Rohingya refugee camp, Bangladesh - August 2017. Image courtesy of Australian Broadcast Corporation

Rohingya refugee camp, Bangladesh – August 2017. Image courtesy of Australian Broadcast Corporation

If Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina can convince UN donors to generously fund the effort, her country has a very good chance of accommodating the sudden flood of refugees; Assisting them to find jobs, homes, and helping to build the strong sort of communities that are an asset to any country — but if it doesn’t happen in this manner, that region of Bangladesh is on the same path as the extremely hurtful (to all sides) Israeli/Palestinian conflict was at its very beginning. Nobody wants that.

Or do they? We’ll see what the response is when the UN General Assembly meets this week in New York.


What Jobs Can the Rohingya Do?

If Bangladesh elects to help the Rohingya fleeing persecution in Burma, the best way forward is to employ them as farm labourers in the southern part of the country. Many of these people have lived in rustic conditions and it will take some time before they will be getting jobs as CEO’s, airline pilots, or automobile designers. But that’s not to say they can’t make a valuable contribution to the Bangladesh economy — they can!

Starting the Rohningyas working in the fields will allow them to acclimatize to the new country and cement their place as valuable workers in Bangla society.

The most important thing for the Bangladeshi authorities to remember after taking care of food, shelter and medicine for the new refugees is to provide a sense of community.

Just dumping these people on a hunk of land and feeding them every day isn’t going to solve anything other than saving their lives, but the eventual result will be a social crisis on the scale of what we’re witnessing in the Philippines today.


What Kind of Housing for Working Rohingya Families?

Refugees that want to work should have access to temporary living quarters. You simply can’t get any sleep in a refugee camp (you know this if you’ve ever visited one!) and therefore, you won’t keep your job very long. Therefore, it’s important to relocate Rohingya workers to suitable accommodations for workers and their families until they can save up enough to purchase their own dwelling.

There are thousands of used portable offices and portable crew quarters in the world available at any time. Not only that, but the UN could purchase thousands of new ATCO-type portable trailers to house Rohingya workers and ship them to southern Bangladesh.

In that way, those Rohingyas that are able and willing to work, will have appropriate accommodation. The benefit of these portable buildings is that they are prewired for electricity, and stoves and heat are provided by natural gas tanks located on the exterior of the unit.

One point to remember about this kind of living quarters is that they can be lifted via crane and placed on top of solid stilts — this is important in Bangladesh as many areas of the country are prone to flooding during the annual monsoon season. Many Bangla homes are placed on stilts to avoid being flooded or carried away in the floodwaters.

Portable ATCO trailers could house Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

Portable ATCO trailers could house Rohingya farm workers in Bangladesh. ATCO Ltd.

It seems Shaikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh sincerely wants to assist the Rohingya refugees and that’s admirable.

However, it’s going to take a few billion dollars just to meet the needs of these desperate people until the end of the year. After that, rather than allowing the miserable conditions of the refugee camps to become the fuel for conflict, the Rohingya must be proactively urged to find local work on the many farms in the region. It’s really the only option in this case.

Getting refugees employed is almost as important as sheltering and feeding them as they stream across the Bangladesh border.


Related Articles:

  • Aung San Suu Kyi invites international help for Rakhine crisis
    (Frontier Myanmar)
  • Bangladesh restricts Rohingya refugees, starts immunization
    (National Post)
  • Rohingya Muslims are being wiped off Myanmar’s map
    (National Post)