Millennium Post

Drop in the ocean

Drop in the ocean

Despite the continuous exodus of Rohingyas from Myanmar to Bangladesh, the plans announced by the beleaguered and increasingly maligned, Aung San Su Kyi, don't seem to be working effectively on the ground. The de facto leader had outlined priorities, including repatriation of refugees in Bangladesh with humanitarian assistance; their resettlement and rehabilitation; and economic development for the Rakhine state that would lead to durable peace. Though not appearing very politically feasible, the Su Kyi government has established a new 'Committee for the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance Resettlement and Development', a collective of government, civil society and international groups. The committee would manage both public and private donations for humanitarian relief and resettlement operations. The committee, which prefers to remain silent on security forces, appears to be functioning in a typical government style – aimed to cement social support base for the reconstruction of the Rakhine state, evoking the organic community response and assistance to victims of the devastating 2008 Cyclone Nargis and the 2015 country-wide flooding. The committee is identifying Myanmar's business houses for donation as they have always readily displayed their benevolence after natural calamities have struck. One can never rule out the 'doubtful' intentions of the government when their resettlement plans appear to be covering up the extreme state-sponsored violence. At the moment, the government's repatriation ideas are at a nascent stage. And, the Myanmar government is merely forming new committees as a daydream of progress and planning for the people. It would remain a mirage to see the conditions improving in the near future – particularly after a sudden re-flux of Rohingyas. Time has come for both the state of Myanmar and international bodies, to realise that in the absence of an overarching framework of principles and requisite risk assessments, further violence or an even greater humanitarian catastrophe could re-erupt in Myanmar. However, as the security dilemma is not yet over, it would be hard to believe that refugees would feel safe to return to their homes given the sadistic nature of the military's recent lethal security operations. What is equally alarming is that neither the government initiatives nor Su Kyi's speeches appear to comprehend the gravity of the situation at hand. It would be akin to plunging into the jaws of death (once again) for many refugees with their shelters within the vicinity of the security forces – who are habituated to play a heavy hand in the implementation of any repatriation. And, the threat of renewed ARSA attacks may also provoke a fresh round of violence targeting the otherwise neutral civilians. The Myanmar government has not yet clearly mentioned where the refugees would return. They would prefer to remain, refugees, than to come back in an airy 'field of dreams'. Notably, like the isolation of Palestinians in Israel's West Bank, the resettlement sites in Rakhine have become squalid, slow-death camps, locked off from regular access to basic provisions and ripe for ARSA recruitment and extremism.

On the other hand, the role of Bangladesh has also worsened the plight of the Rohingyas. Bilateral relations between Naypyidaw and Dhaka are sour and the latest crisis has plunged the ties into a new downward spiral. Two previous large-scale returns, in 1978 and 1995, were rife with reports of abuses by both sides. It would be interesting to see the documentation that Bangladesh would be providing for new arrivals and consequent acceptance of the Myanmar government – especially under the resurrected 1992 criteria for repatriation, including documents with proof of Myanmar citizenship or residency. The role of international bodies like the UN and INGOs would also be important in the proposed repatriation. The UN does not appear to be willingly complicit in the construction or supply of return settlements that could easily turn out to be detention facilities with even sharper restrictions on basic freedoms.

This is perhaps due to the expulsion of UN and INGOs from Rakhine during the first days of this crisis. Even till the date, it is doubtful that these international arbitrating agencies would be allowed for an unencumbered access to the refugees in need, especially amid recent denigration. Now, the million-dollar question is, what can Su Kyi really provide with a virtual cosmic bell-boy in her hand? While Suu Kyi has no power over the wholly autonomous military by the law, the Commander-in-Chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, has received a red-carpet welcome wherever he has gone – be it Austria, Germany, Russia, India or Japan. It seems that there is an acute delusion in the outside world on the nature of civil-military relations in Myanmar and the extent of power the country's elected representatives actually possess.

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