Bangladesh’s initial response to Rohingya crisis was ‘weak, disoriented’: Ex-NHRC chief

  • Senior Correspondent,
    Published: 2019-08-18 20:35:19 BdST


The initial response of Bangladesh to the Rohingya crisis was “rather weak and disoriented”, former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission Bangladesh Mizanur Rahman has said.

Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque, who was present at the event where Mizanur spoke, however, refuted the claim and termed it ‘misinformation’.

Both of them were discussing the ‘Rohingya crisis and way forward’ at a seminar at the BIISS auditorium on Sunday. Chairman of the BIISS Board of Governance Munshi Faiz Ahmed moderated the event.

Bangladesh has been giving shelter to Rohingyas for long. The latest exodus in Aug 2017 has added over 700,000 of them who fled ‘ethnic cleansing’ in the Rakhine State.

Mizanur said: “We need to internationalise the Rohingya issue, (make sure it is) not limited to the problem of Bangladesh, Myanmar and the Rohingya themselves”.

“The problem is a universal one. It’s truly an international problem, an international crisis,” he said. “As an individual, it appeared to me the initial response of Bangladesh to the Rohingya refugee crisis was rather weak and disoriented."

“It appears to me that our foreign office, our government believed that Myanmar is a peace-loving neighbouring country so through bilateral talks and means with the assistance from the big brother India and another big brother, adopted brother China, this problem will be resolved within the foreseeable future.

“But to our utter dismay, one fine morning we found we don’t have neither India, nor China, nor even Russia. And that was immensely frustrating for the foreign office, government and the people of Bangladesh.”

Foreign Secretary Shahidul, however, said this is ‘misinformation’ or ‘lack of information’.

“The question of how foreign office dealt with it, I think at no stage we were caught by surprise. We were aware of it. We have been trying to calibrate our own responses. Some were in public, some were not. That does not mean we did not know what to do,” he said.

“Bilateral is a well-defined practiced method of dealing with any issues which Bangladesh has used. At no stage, we absolutely abandoned the multilateral platform or approach. We have been using both bilateral and multilateral simultaneously.

“We did not restrict our approach only to bilateral. At times we see more emphasis on bilateral and at some stage you see emphasis on multilateral,” he continued.

“We were quite ahead and we had used all the tools that we had in our disposal including talking to our regional finds. I don’t think we were ever frustrated by the response we got because every country has its own national interest.

“We are also aware of that context. Our expectation was possibly more guarded than often it is vent in the public,” he said.

Shahidul said repatriation has always been one of the priorities of Bangladesh.

“The peaceful solution is to go back. We never suggested any alternative or anything else. Rohingyas have to go back to their own homeland. We continue to pursue this,” he said, adding that they would try to encourage Rohingyas to go back in the "next couple of weeks".

This is for their own sake, Haque said, adding that if they don't go back, they will be deprived not only of land, but also of all of their rights in Myanmar.

Replying to a question, the foreign secretary, however, refused to confirm any specific date for the beginning of Rohingya repatriation from Cox’s Bazar as reported by the international media.

"It's (repatriation) very much on the table. It's a continuous process. Anytime it can happen," he said.

Reuters earlier reported that Myanmar and Bangladesh have agreed to start a fresh attempt to repatriate on Aug 22.

“We have agreed to the repatriation of 3,540 people on August 22," Myint Thu, a spokesman for Myanmar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Reuters by phone.