Two years after atrocities in Myanmar’s Rakhine State drove a wave of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh, prospects for repatriation remain dim. Frustrated Bangladeshi authorities refuse to plan for the long term, have introduced stringent security measures at refugee camps, and may move some refugees to a remote island, Bhasan Char.
Why did it happen?
The Bangladeshi government is struggling with growing security challenges near the refugee camps and domestic political pressure to resolve the crisis. It is also irritated by the lack of progress in repatriating any of the estimated one million Rohingya refugees on its soil.
Why does it matter?
Dhaka’s restrictions on aid activities prohibit its partners from building safe housing in the Rohingya camps or developing programs that cultivate refugee self-reliance. Combined with heavy-handed security measures, this approach risks alienating refugees and setting the stage for greater insecurity and conflict in southern Bangladesh.
What should be done?
While pressing for eventual repatriation, Bangladesh and external partners should move past short-term planning and work together to build safe housing, improve refugees’ educational and livelihood opportunities, and support refugee-hosting communities. Dhaka should also roll back its counterproductive security measures and plans for relocations to Bhasan Char.
Bangladesh is host to roughly one million Rohingya refugees, most of whom fled over the border following a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine State that began in August 2017. While generously providing safe haven to this enormous population, Bangladesh has sought to treat the displacement crisis as a short-term challenge, focusing on the importance of repatriation and refusing to engage in multi-year planning. This approach has not succeeded. Repatriation efforts have stalled, crime and violence in the Rohingya camps and around them in southern Bangladesh appear to be on the rise, and Dhaka has reacted increasingly sharply. In August, it began rolling out stringent restrictions on refugees and NGOs that are interfering with the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the camps and alienating refugees, thus potentially aggravating local insecurity. Bangladesh should reverse the counterproductive measures it has imposed, publicly acknowledge the long-term nature of the crisis it is facing and begin working with external partners and refugees to mobilise the resources needed to meet it.
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