Webinar Update: Resilience Amidst Hardships – Inside The Rohingya Camps

‘To not only have the viewpoint of the NGOs but to see from the perspective of the Bangladesh government as a Bangladeshi national to protect the sovereignty of Bangladesh’, stated Shamima Akhter Jahan Popy, one of the panelists in the webinar titled ‘Resilience Amidst Hardships: Inside the Rohingya Camps’ held on 27th February 2024 organized by the Foreign Policy Team of Youth Policy Forum. The discussion uniquely blended the perspectives of the Bangladeshi government and the international NGOs on the issues of repatriation, integration and protection of human rights of the Rohingya community.  Anannyo Samayel, moderator of the session, pointed out that 8 years ago more than a million Rohingya population took refuge in Bangladesh following the atrocities committed by the military of Myanmar. The issue regained its importance as the ongoing civil war in Myanmar is blurring out the hope of repatriation of the refugees. 

Farabi Mahmud, Head of the Teach and Innovation Team of YPF, discussed how the first waves of Rohingya refugees who came before the 2000s had established their socio-political dominance over half a century. They have built inter border family networks since giving birth to newborns in Bangladesh has blurred the issue of attaining Bangladeshi citizenship. Some, bearing a Bangladeshi passport, legally and illegally fled to a third country. The latest wave of Rohingya refugees arrived in small boats. The sailors being the leader have successfully formed relations with the local leaders and international NGOs to voice their demands. Following this account, Ayreen Khan, the founder of iCan Foundation, encapsulated the humane aspect of the refugees. The dominant political groups of Myanmar attempted to erase the Rohingyas from history by destroying their state documents. Ms. Khan who worked as a development worker, journalist and artist in the camp said, ‘they have two names, burmese and muslim names. The latter gives the license to the Myanmar government to deny them as citizens.’ Now, the Arakan army has taken control of several states of Myanmar. They are using the Rohingyas as human shields while promising to repatriate the refugees upon negotiation. The war signals that they will be living in the camp for an extended period of time. The children who arrived as refugees have lived through infancy and became young adults. If they are not given any work and study opportunities, the 5 to 7 lakh youth will turn into a ‘goldmine’ for illicit activities. According to Miss Khan, there should be an exchange of views between the Bangladeshi and the Rohingya youth. The advocacy through a regional youth collaboration involving the medium of art is required. Furthermore, skill development of the rohingya population will make them desirable to the Myanmar government. 

Tasmia Sarwar, another panelist, is currently working in the refugee camp on the issue of plantation. NGOs are working to plant the native mangrove plants to address deforestation. However, the speaker noted, harvesting edible crops would have provided work opportunities, mitigated food shortage and made the Rohingyas self-sufficient in the process. As an anthropology graduate she said, ‘the NGOs are working to make education inclusive but the Rohingyas are conservative in nature; providing formal education to women is not in their culture. Since the skill development schemes are not resulting in work opportunities the Rohingya women are unwilling to receive education.’ She claimed the government is not working to include the Rohingyas in the Bangladesh economy. As a response, Shamima Akhter Jahan Popy, Senior Assistant Commissioner, DC Office, Natore, enlightened the audience by being the voice of the Bangladesh government on the issues of repatriation and integration. Being the very first woman to work as a camp in-charge from 2018 to 2021, she brought her first hand experience into discussion. Although the government is unwilling to integrate the Rohingya refugees within the economy, the World Bank endorses the idea of their integration into villages, cities and moreover, the entire economy of Bangladesh. They say it would reduce their dependence on donor agencies. However, it would also pose a financial and economic threat to the Bangladeshis. Thus, the government will always recognize the Rohingya community as Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals (FDMN) and work on their repatriation. 

As per 2021, the UNHCR has successfully registered about 3 lakh FDMN Rohingyas. When the data was sent to the government of Myanmar, they agreed to accept about 28,000 of them as Myanmar nationals. However, a question arises that why the registered Rohingya individuals who lived next door to the accepted ones are not being accepted as citizens. Following this logic, the government of Bangladesh still hopes to repatriate the Rohingyas to their homeland in future. Furthermore, she noted, sending the population to Bhashanchar was a policy aimed at fastening the process of repatriation. The government provided better shelter, food and cash generating employment to make the policy lucrative. 

Questions seeking what can be done to enhance the life of rohingya refugees were directed to all the panelists. They proposed their suggestions. Ayreen Khan noted, living in a densely populated camp does not in any way reciprocate a decent life. Within the resource constraint, skill developing exchange programs financed by donor agencies can be arranged. It would further reduce the number of illicit activities and occurrences of drug abuse. However, following the war in Gaza and Ukraine, agencies are redirecting their funds from the Rohingya humanitarian crisis. Lastly, Farabi Mahmud suggested that the government of Bangladesh can work to enhance its diplomatic ties with the government of Myanmar to negotiate the issue of repatriation. Tasmia Sarwar said, to purchase the basic needs that are to be claimed by cash, the Rohingyas bridge the security of the camps and illegally seek employment at a lower wage than a Bangladeshi national. Thus some NGO workers are on the verge of losing jobs. Cash generating work incentives can be organized within the camp to address the issue. 

Any refugee crisis demands the advocacy of NGOs which work for the protection of rights. However, the refugees reside in a foreign nation which aims to prioritize the rights of their own citizens. The panelists concluded, to protect its political mandate Bangladesh government will always recognize the Rohingyas as FDMN individuals seeking repatriation but NGOs often sheds light on integration of refugees. 


Written by-

Suprio Labonno Poroma

Associate, Foreign Policy Team


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