Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) organised a Webinar titled “The Rohingya Crisis: Response of the International Community and the Repatriation Process”, on 21 April 2021. His Excellency Mr. Md. Shahriar Alam, MP, Hon’ble State Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh graced the occasion as the Chief Guest. Major General Emdad Ul Bari ndc, psc, te, Director General, BIISS chaired the webinar. Five papers were presented in the webinar: “The West and the Rohingya Crisis”, presented by Ambassador M. Humayun Kabir, President, Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI); “ASEAN, Myanmar and the Rohingya Crisis” presented by Brigadier General M Sakhawat Hossain (Retd), Senior Fellow, South Asian Institute of Policy and Governance, North South University, Dhaka, Bangladesh, “The Role of India and China in the Rohingya Repatriation Process,” presented by Professor Dr. Imtiaz Ahmed, Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka; “Multilateral Organisations and The Rohingya Crisis: The UN, EU and OIC”, presented by Mr. Md. Delwar Hossain, Director General, Myanmar Wing, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bangladesh; and, “The Dilemmas of US Sanctions against Myanmar” by Mr. Abu Salah Md. Yousuf, Senior Research Fellow at Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS).
Major General Bari pointed out to the increasing predicament caused by a million of refugees and praised Bangladesh for showing a great example of generosity and compassion by opening the border for those displaced people. He showed his concern about the Rohingya community being vulnerable to human trafficking and exploitation by radical or organised criminal groups. Referring to Bangladesh’s formal negotiations with Myanmar as well as the recent military coup in February 2021, he expressed his concern that the repatriation efforts were not producing desired results for Bangladesh. He added that the Sino-Indian competition in Myanmar is visible in the strategic and investment aspects. He emphasised that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), global civil society organisations (CSOs) and think tanks should come forward to pursue Myanmar to understand the necessity of cooperation with Bangladesh regarding the Rohingya repatriation.
Ambassador Kabir proposed an arbitrary grouping where he would include the United States (US), the European Union (EU), the United Kingdom (UK), Canada, Australia, Japan and South Korea, and examine the issue from two perspectives—official and civil society. He emphasised on the humanitarian aspect and asked for further consideration of the livelihood and survival of the Rohingya community. Although he lauded the support of the Western countries for the Rohingyas and the host community, he addressed the nuanced views of the Western countries, Japan, South Korea, India and China, given their geopolitical interests. Finally, he underscored the idea of a federal Myanmar and opined that it could open up some space for Rohingyas and other small minorities who are facing difficulties.
Brigadier General Hossain referred to the organisational structure of ASEAN and the lack of collective mechanism which do not allow discussion on internal issues of the member states. He also said that Myanmar’s Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s invitation indicated that the ASEAN countries were not much interested in what was happening inside Myanmar. Regarding the Military junta’s handling of the Rohingya issue, General Hossain highlighted that the military government in Myanmar might try to open a dialogue with Bangladesh in the coming days to showcase to the West that they are trying to negotiate this humanitarian issue. However, the repatriations might not be easy since they would not risk the North Arakan to be dominated by the Rohingyas. General Hossain suggested to look into the East, particularly Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, to resolve the Rohingya crisis and proceed diplomatically.
Professor Dr. Ahmed highlighted four similar interests of China and India: keeping peace at the Northeast borders of India and the Southern borders of China; improving connectivity; and, getting access to Myanmar’s market. He also identified two factors for driving out the Rohingyas from Myanmar on 25 August 2017: first, the Kofi Annan Commission Report and the international community’s positive stance on reviewing Myanmar’s Citizenship Law as well as granting the Rohingyas human rights; and, second, recognition of the Rohingyas making them entitled to a zone of their own as per the Constitution. He argued that the Rohingyas cannot ever be repatriated without the consent of the Myanmar military. He suggested decoupling India and China from Myanmar as well as called for active international effort to shame the international investors in Myanmar.
Mr. Hossain informed that it is very difficult to raise certain issues in bilateral settings as they require collective efforts. After the crisis began in August 2017, Bangladesh took this issue to several international bodies, including the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). According to him, these attempts resulted in a few signs of progress, including UNSC’s comprehensive reports on atrocities in Myanmar and a green signal from the OIC’s ad hoc Ministerial Committee to file a case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) etc. Nevertheless, he also pointed that there had been very little commitment on the part of the international community. He urged to take the solution as a collective responsibility of all and not only of the governments of Bangladesh.
Mr. Yousuf tried to answer three issues regarding the US sanctions against Myanmar : the motives, the effectiveness and the future prospects. He categorised the US sanctions against Myanmar into three phases: 1997 to 2010, when the US was not closely connected with Myanmar; 2010 to 2017, or the “engagement period”; and the post-2017 period or the “paradoxical phase”. Mr. Yousuf also briefly explained several dilemmas on US sanctions against Myanmar, i.e. US’s geopolitical interests in the region, the policies of close allies of the US on Myanmar, stakes of several multinational companies and the opportunity cost related to sanctions. In the end, he opined that the China factor and US’s strategic interest in the region would continue to dominate US policy regarding Myanmar.
His Excellency Mr. Alam said that Bangladesh surely saved the world from a possible catastrophe when the people’s plight emerged in 2016 and 2017. He praised Bangladesh’s contribution as a responsible member of the international community, which includes providing food, shelter, medical facilities and a dedicated place for the Rohingya’s in Bhashan Char where 20,000 of them are at refugee. He condemned Myanmar’s effort to misguide the international community through unsubstantiated claims and unjustifiable pieces of information against Bangladesh and hoped that soon enough the UN will start to take responsibility.
In the concluding remarks, Major General Bari noted the different dimensions of the Rohingya crisis and emphasised that Bangladesh needs to develop a long term approach. He urged all the stakeholders to make an all-out effort to solve the crisis and thanked the panelists for sharing their knowledge and expertise.