Bangladesh is currently in the thick of an intense election process. The country goes to polls on 30 December to elect members to its 350-member National Assembly ‘Jatiyo Sangsad’. The polling process, however, is being held under the shadow of the Rohingya refugee crisis that has seen India’s strengthening bilateral ties with Bangladesh for finding a settlement to the issue.
India readily agreed to assist Bangladesh with relief material for the Rohingya refugees as diplomatic efforts are on to ensure the ultimate return of the refugees to their land of origin, Myanmar in accordance with an agreement signed between Dhaka and Naypyitaw. But it is a task that is easier said than done.
At the peak of the humanitarian crisis in 2017 India was the first country to promptly chip in with relief assistance to help Bangladesh to tide over the immediate situation. Until now, India has delivered a total of four tranches of relief assistance under ‘Operation Insaniyat’.
The second tranche of 373 Metric Tonnes of relief materials was handed over to Dhaka in May 2018 comprising 104 metric tonnes of milk powder, 102 metric tonnes of foodstuff, 61 metric tonnes of baby food, 50 thousand pairs of gumboots and a similar number of raincoats.
In September this year as part of the third tranche India delivered 1.1 million litres of Super Kerosene Oil or SKO and 20 thousand multi-wick kerosene stoves. On 24 December, the fourth tranche of relief material was delivered by the Indian High Commission to Bangladesh government comprising 2,25,000 blankets, 2,00,000 woolen sweaters in view of the onset of winter for the Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar. Besides, 500 solar lights were also provided for the refugee camps.
There have been reports of growing resentment among the local Bangladeshi population against the presence of Rohingyas in their localities, who enjoy facilities like mobile charging units, etc. much to the chagrin of locals. Keeping these factors in mind, New Delhi for the first time took steps to deliver part of the relief assistance to the local population as well under its fourth tranche of relief materials.
Bangladesh has conveyed its appreciation of India’s efforts to provide relief assistance to the Rohingyas. But the government headed by Sheikh Hasina wants India to put more pressure on Myanmar to take back the Rohingyas, many of whom are suspected to have links with militant outfits active in the region such as Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army or ARSA and are considered a potential target for recruitment by militants.
Keeping in mind the concerns of Bangladesh government, Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale recently underlined the need for expeditious implementation of the bilateral understanding reached between Bangladesh and Myanmar for the return of Rohingya refugees to their homeland.
India believes that it is in everybody’s interest that the bilateral understanding is implemented as soon as possible and that the displaced persons return to their homeland as soon as possible.
To further smoothen the return of Rohingya refugees back to their homeland, India had signed the Rakhine State Development Programme in 2017 with Myanmar government. Under this programme, India is assisting Myanmar for constructing houses for the displaced persons in Rakhine, the site of violent attacks between Rohingya militants and Myanmar security forces last year. 12 security personnel and some Rohingya civilians lost their lives in the clashes and resulted in the illegal entry of Rohingyas into neighbouring Bangladesh and India. New Delhi has since declared Rohingyas residing in India as illegal migrants.
As Bangladesh gears up to elect its new government, it is keen to send back the Rohingya refugees. The political and financial cost of giving refuge to these illegal migrants any longer is going to be immense for any political dispensation that comes to power in Bangladesh. It is high time that a solution is found to the issue that would ensure peace justice and dignity for all.
Script: Dipankar Chakraborty, Journalist