Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that the international community must do everything possible to make sure the Rohingyas return to their homeland as “they themselves also wish to return to their home”.
“Impunity for such heinous crime should not be allowed on all accounts,” she also said at a high-level interaction on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) session in New York, adding Bangladesh extended its support to the ongoing international efforts to ensure the persecutors’ accountability, particularly in the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
This decision, she said, was based on Bangladesh people’s own painful experience during the 1971 Liberation War and inspired by the guiding principle laid out by Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
“The very struggle of Bangladesh symbolised the universal struggle for peace and justice. It was, therefore, only natural that Bangladesh, from its very inception, should stand firmly by the side of the oppressed people of the world,” she quoted Sheikh Mujib as saying.
The virtual meeting titled “High-Level Side Event on Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals (Rohingya) crisis: Imperatives for a Sustainable Solution” was held under Bangladesh auspices ahead of her scheduled UNGA address on September 24. The meeting was organised as part of Dhaka’s efforts to highlight the crisis in the main UNGA general debate, officials said.
Bangladesh organised the event co-sponsored by eight countries and organisations including the UK, Ireland, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and the European Union.
Sheikh Hasina said at the start of the Rohingya exodus in 2017 to evade persecution in Myanmar’s Rakhine Province bordering Bangladesh, “our choice was to save their lives or to close the border and let them face ethnic cleansing”.
“We chose to save their lives for the sake of humanity,” she told the UN members.
She has demanded intensified global action with real urgency to repatriate Rohingyas, saying major international powers inaction over the crisis shocked Bangladesh as it extended them makeshift refuge on humanitarian grounds, straining its resources.
“As I repeatedly said they (Rohingyas) are Myanmar nationals and hence, they must go back to their homeland, Myanmar, in safety and dignity,” she said.
Hasina noted that the issue was a matter of regional and global security concerns and therefore it needed urgent resolution while “I would like to emphasise that whatever we are doing in Bangladesh is purely on a temporary basis”.
Simultaneously, she put weight behind towards the campaign to expose to justice the people responsible for the persecution of the minority Rohingya community for the sake of justice and infusing a sense of confidence among the victim population in returning their home.
She said since that mass exodus in 2017, at all the successive UNGAs, she placed specific proposals for a sustainable solution to the crisis while “my government has maintained bilateral engagements with Myanmar”.
“At the regional front, we have tried to take on board the major powers, including China and India. We have all along tried to have more active involvement of the ASEAN.
“At the multilateral front, we kept the issue on the table by UN resolutions engaging important countries and the UN agencies but sadly our efforts for the hapless, uprooted Myanmar nationals returning home to Myanmar has not generated any tangible outcome yet. Till today, not a single one of them could go back to their homeland,” she said.
Sheikh Hasina said for the last four years, Bangladesh awaited with high hopes that these displaced people could go back to their own homes in their motherland Myanmar in safety, security and dignity, reposing “our trust in the global assembly and community for their repatriation”.
“Our calls have remained unheeded and our hopes unfulfilled. We are now in the fifth year of the crisis. Yet, we still hold the hope for a durable solution to this crisis,” she said, adding that this humanitarian crisis appeared a collective responsibility as its implication goes beyond borders and warned that any failure in doing so immediately would “jeopardise our collective security”.
“The growing frustration over the lack of progress in repatriation entices many to get involved in criminal activities, and they are easy prey to extremist ideologies. This could potentially destabilise the entire region,” she warned.
She suggested a five-point international course of action with the first one being the investment of “all our efforts” as the top priority. Secondly, she said that the changed political scenario in Myanmar created uncertainty in the repatriation process, requiring a revision in international efforts. Seeking enhanced efforts of ASEAN in the current perspective, she said that she believes the ASEAN has an important responsibility when its actions would largely influence Myanmar in view of the present situation.
“Fourthly, we must remember humanitarian assistance is essential but in no way a permanent solution. The UN and the partners must undertake tangible actions and projects in Myanmar to create an environment conducive for repatriation and their sustainability,” she said. “So far, we have not seen any such progress.”
Turning to pending repatriation, she said that Bangladesh ensured all necessary arrangements to make Rohingyas temporarily stay safe and secure, despite resource and land constraints.
“The prolonged stay of such a large population in a congested area is also having serious impacts on the surrounding environment and ecology. Hills and forest lands have been cut down to provide shelters,” she said.
Even in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic challenges, “we have not forgotten to ensure the safety and welfare of the Rohingyas. We have remained faithful to our conviction that no one is safe until each one of us is safe. We have included this population in our national vaccination programme,” she said.