International community must do all it can to return Rohingya to Myanmar, says Hasina

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has called upon the international community to act with timeliness and urgency to return Rohingya people in Bangladesh to Myanmar, warning that further delays pose risks to regional security.

“Resolving this humanitarian crisis is a collective responsibility as its implication goes beyond borders,” said Hasina during an event on the Rohingya crisis on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on Wednesday.

“Delaying this crucial problem jeopardises 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 reiterated that the Rohingya are Myanmar nationals who must return to their homeland ‘in safety and dignity’.

“I would like to emphasise that whatever we are doing in Bangladesh is purely on a temporary basis.”

The prime minister called upon all of Bangladesh’s friends, allies and development partners on the world stage to come forward with their support on this issue.

Hasina, who is scheduled to speak at the UN General Assembly on Sept 24, made the statement at the high-level virtual side event titled “Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals (Rohingya) Crisis: Imperatives for a Sustainable Solution” during her trip to New York.

“I am encouraged to see the strong presence of our key partners today,” she said.

“I believe you all share our concerns and need urgent action to resolve this serious problem.  We need to go beyond words and rhetoric into tangible action to reach this desired outcome which is also the cherished desire of the Rohingya.”

She particularly singled out regional cooperation body ASEAN, calling on it to step up efforts to encourage Myanmar to create an environment for the return of the Rohingya

In particular, the prime minister called for accountability of those people who perpetrated the persecution of the minority population in Myanmar.

“Impunity for such heinous crime should not be allowed on all accounts,” she said.

“In this regard, Bangladesh supports the ongoing international efforts to ensure accountability, including at the International Court of Justice. Other international mechanisms created by the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council should also be supported.”

Despite the lack of any tangible outcome on efforts to return the Rohingya to Myanmar, Hasina said she was still hopeful of a durable solution to the crisis.

The prime minister also highlighted Bangladesh’s efforts to support and care for the Rohingya population.

“Pending repatriation, we have ensured all necessary arrangements to make their temporary stay in Bangladesh safe and secure, despite our resource and land constraints.”

The prolonged stay of a large population in a congested area had a serious effect on the environment, had presented serious challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic and was leading to more pressure on camps as children are born to the exiled nationals, she said.

“To decongest the overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar, we have developed an island called Bhasan Char, covering an area of 13,000 acres in the south of the country. We spent over $350 million from our own budget to develop this settlement.”

Bangladesh made the humane decision to save the Rohingya from genocide during the 2017 crisis was due, in part, to the country’s painful experiences during the 1971 Liberation War, Hasina said.

“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 said, quoting the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

However, she emphasised that the true goal was to ensure sustainable repatriation and that all efforts must be invested towards that end.

“We must remember humanitarian assistance is essential, but is, in no way, a permanent solution.”