Dr. Mohammad Tarikul Islam is a YPF Senior Fellow for Local Economic Development. He is an Associate Professor of the Department of Government and Politics at Jahangirnagar University in Bangladesh. He has been a Visiting Scholar at the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. Before joining the university, He was serving the United Nations Development Programme for seven years. The School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London has recently appointed Professor Islam as an Honorary Visiting Fellow. Dr. Mohammad Tarikul Islam has been researching the repatriation and geopolitics of Rohingya Refugees over the years, and a number of articles on this issue meanwhile appeared in the Oxford Political Review, LSE South Asia Centre, Cambridge Human Movement Centre, and English Dailies of Bangladesh, India, and Nepal. He has given lectures at the different universities in the UK, India, Nepal, Indonesia and has been interviewed by the press and electronic media at home and abroad. His publications can be found on the Faculty Page of Dr. Islam. In a conversation with the Youth Policy Forum (YPF), Dr. Islam talks about the dilemma of Rohingya repatriation from Bangladesh to Myanmar. This overview was facilitated by Ahmad Tousif Jami, a Research Associate at YPF.
What/who encouraged the most significant shifts in your thinking to study on the Rohingya refugees?
Dr. Islam: Due to persecution, the Rohingya, an ethnic minority group in Myanmar crossed into neighboring Bangladesh over decades, laying uneven pressure on the scarce resources of Bangladesh. Bangladesh is apparently hosting around one million Rohingya refugees. Myanmar government has been very reluctant to take back their nationals, the Rohingya, despite the robust diplomatic endeavors of Bangladesh government regarding repatriation. Given their living space mostly located in Teknaf-Cox’s Bazar areas, the refugee earmarked areas are adjacent to the settlements of the local citizens. Once, many awkward incidences happened between them causing law and order situations. Security concern particularly non-conventional (human security), is another challenge that Bangladesh is already facing and it will intensify further in the future with the influx of the Rohingya refugees over the years. Bangladesh government has been accredited for providing them with various facilities, including shelter, food and medical care despite many limitations. To address the risks of a potential outbreak of coronavirus in the camps, the Government of Bangladesh, together with UNHCR and partners, has ensured the inclusion of Rohingya refugees in its national response. As I teach politics, I had decided to complement the diplomatic efforts of the government of Bangladesh through research for the amicable solutions of the Rohingya crisis. It was in the mid of 2018 when I was influenced by one of the British Scholars to research on the state of human security in the Rohingya Camps and their repatriation. I am currently researching on the impact of geo-politics on the repatriation of Rohingya refugees. This research critically analyses the geo-political interests of China and India centering this evolving crisis. My on-going research explores the interplay between Bangladesh formal and informal diplomacy narratives and regional cooperation discourses on the repatriation of refugees, drawing upon theories of public diplomacy, regional cooperation and non-conventional security studies. The undertaking aims to contribute to the diplomatic approach of the government of Bangladesh in the changed circumstances after capturing the state power of Myanmar by the military in early February 2021.
How do you see the on-going relocation of Rohingya Refugees to Bhashan Char?
Dr. Islam: Realistically, there are some particular favorable circumstances of Rohingya refugees over Bhashan Char. The destinations are found generally in level land in an eight kilometer stretch of west of Kutupalong-Balukhai Expansion Camp between the super camp and the coast. Those fall inside the regulation zone that the public authority has assigned to restrict free development of Rohingyas. Another preferred position is that occupants there would appreciate close geological nearness of the super camp where different evacuees are based. The locales would likewise be generally near the boundary with Burma and will keep the evacuees’ expectation alive to return there in the closest conceivable time.
What is the viewpoint of rights groups and international community with regard to their relocation in Bhashan Char?
Dr. Islam: I have observed that, rights groups and the international community have condemned the migration, saying it is a low-lying land, yet the public authority said all the assurance measures were set up in Bhashan Char. The issue drew more noteworthy worldwide consideration with 700 thousand Rohingya escaping their nation and intersection the boundary to Bangladesh three years prior now inside a range of only a couple months. Consequently, the Rohingya displaced person emergency is not any more a homegrown or inward matter of Myanmar; rather, it is currently perhaps the most pivotal worldwide emergencies. Although, the UN and different rights groups asserted that they have restricted data about the thing has been going on and that the public authority still can’t seem to permit a specialized group to evaluate the possibility of the lodging project in Bhashan Char. UN and rights groups have been scrutinizing the possibility of migration to Bhashan Char, saying it is a low-lying secluded island and has dangers of flooding, however at a point a year ago consented to send a specialized group to survey the condition and mentioned the public authority to permit the visit before movement. The UN additionally said any movement ought to be deliberate and all insurance estimates should be set up.
How are the government doing to clarify its stand for the relocation?
Dr. Islam: It’s appreciable as the Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh to the United Nations in a virtual discussion with UN High Commissioner for the Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi presented the rationale of Rohingya relocation to the housing project on the island under Hatiya upazila of Noakhali district in Bangladesh. Earlier, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen had said in an explanation that the public authority won’t compel the Rohingyas to move to Bhashan Char. As per the Minister, the public authority isn’t taking Rohingyas to Bhashan Char persuasively. The public authority is taking the individuals who are happy to go. They are going to Bhashan Char consciously and own choice. Considering the reality, I strongly believe, UN and international community should appreciate the relentless undertaking of Bangladesh government for giving a protected and tranquil living of the Rohingya displaced people on one side while accelerating its diplomatic niche to repatriate them with dignity in Myanmar on the opposite side.
What would you say on geopolitical interests of China and India centering Rohingya crisis?
Dr. Islam: Undoubtedly, Bangladesh is making every effort in a professional fashion to harness regional and global power to end in amicable solution of this emerging crisis despite the position of China and India on the side of Myanmar on Rohingya issue. We have noticed both countries are having huge strategic and economic interest in Myanmar. Even Russia seems like compassionate to Myanmar on this issue. Bangladesh government has been experienced over the months while unveiling their diplomatic efforts in persuading Myanmar to repatriate the refugees. However, the reality suggests that Bangladesh government may not succeed in sending all of them back even in a single go with the utmost diplomatic niche. Therefore, we may think of some long-term solutions to deal with this additional population in Bangladesh. Though Myanmar holds no major importance in Russian policy – no geopolitical interests are at stake there, while Moscow’s attitude to the issue in the UN could potentially to upset its Muslim allies, for instance Iran.
How do you find the prolonged stay of Rohingya refugees as the national security threats?
Dr. Islam: Precisely, there is a growing apprehension among the security experts that the huge influx of the Rohingyas during the most recent many years is making a multidimensional security emergency. As stateless evacuees, they have become the substance of security dangers just as different types of psycho-social and human security challenges in Myanmar and in their new host nations across the area like Bangladesh. Taking care of security concerns is impossible to the detriment of helpful necessities. Still others propose that safety efforts are required in light of the fact that the outcast emergency is causing unsteadiness, prompting a genuine decrease in exchange and business, particularly in the Bangladesh-Myanmar relations.
Will the military coup in Myanmar shift the attention from the Rohingya repatriation to the democracy restoration?
Dr. Islam: The military coup in Myanmar on 1 February 2020 has raised fears in neighboring Bangladesh that the new regime may not honor commitments to repatriate Rohingya Muslim refugees currently in Bangladesh. Bangladesh firmly adheres to and promotes democratic ethos. Bangladesh believes, democratic process and constitutional arrangements will be upheld in Myanmar. What it really implies is that Bangladesh presently feels that the genuine answer for the Rohingya emergency is serene and manageable bringing home. I believe, Bangladesh government will work persistently with Myanmar government for the voluntary, safe and sustained repatriation of the Rohingyas sheltered in Bangladesh. Again, international community led by the United Nations must stand in solidarity with the government of Bangladesh at this time, and for all states with influence to take steps in repatriation of Rohingya refuges to Myanmar alongside pressurizing the military government for the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.
How do you evaluate the diplomatic endeavor of Bangladesh in this connection?
Dr. Islam: Again, Bangladesh government has been making diplomatic efforts in persuading Myanmar to repatriate the refugees over the months but in reality, it is highly unlikely the Bangladesh government will succeed in sending the refugees back to Myanmar in a shortest possible time. Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed in late 2017 to complete the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees within two years, notwithstanding international doubts that they will be held in forbidding detention camps that may result in another round of cruelty both physically and psychologically. Even Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in April 2018 sought affirmative role of China, Russia, India and Japan in resolving the Rohingya crisis. Apart from her speech in the UN General Assembly in 2019, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had joined a high-level side-event on the situation of Rohingyas in Myanmar organised by the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh and the OIC Secretariat. Even in the last virtual general assembly of UN, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called upon the global community to put pressure on Myanmar to take back its own people.
As an Academic, do you anticipate amicable Solution of Rohingya Problem?
Dr. Islam: In another possible scenario, I think that, United Nations, which is found to be very emphatic for meaningful repatriation of Rohingya refuges from Bangladesh must coordinate and communicate with donors and other relevant stakeholders to come forward to solve this problem permanently by putting pressure on the Myanmar government to take back its citizens by creating a safe and secured environment. In the long term, I assume that, as Bangladesh and India have continued to consolidate their political, economic, trade and cultural relations as well as have built a comprehensive institutional framework to promote bilateral cooperation over the decades, India must come forward to join hands with Bangladesh government for swift repatriation of Rohingya refugees. We also expect China beside Bangladesh to resolve this prolonged crisis.
To me, South Asian countries must show solidarity with Bangladesh and support Myanmar to start creating conditions for the voluntary, safe, and dignified return of Rohingya refugees. What it really implies is that Bangladesh presently feels that the genuine answer for the Rohingya emergency is serene and manageable bringing home. The UN, at the same time must enforce the recommendation of Annan Commission by applying diplomatic pressure on Myanmar. The UN Security Council should initiate a visit to the Rohingya refugee camps to force the government of Myanmar for setting up “safe zones” for people of all backgrounds in conflict-torn parts of Myanmar as proposed by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. For the sake of humanity, the international community must take due steps immediately for the peaceful and dignified repatriation of Rohingya for the greater interest of peace and tranquility in the region.
What is the most important advice you could give to young scholars?
Dr. Islam: First of all, I would say, young scholars must believe in them and must know that self-confident is more important that they can imagine. It can change your whole life to the better. They must be devoted in creating, sharing, using and managing the knowledge. As the situation builds strong people in the end, please do not fear failure rather keep trying with confidence. Like many contenders, I came to higher education on a nontraditional path with ups and down. But for me, this journey ended with far more than a degree; it crowned in a distinctiveness that combined my life experiences and culture with the buoyancy and skillset of a promising scholar. Last but not least, hard work with stubborn dedication always pays off.
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