The Rohingya Plight Amid the Ukraine Crisis: Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

The crisis in Ukraine is deepening as the Russian invasion has been going on for more than two weeks now. The Russian aggression in Ukraine has resulted in a new refugee crisis in Ukraine which is already affecting Europe. War has displaced Ukrainians fleeing neighboring countries, including Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, and Moldova. The latest update suggests that other European countries, including Britain and Germany, are also preparing to take in the refugees. The crisis has already produced around 1.3 million refugees within a fortnight, mostly women and children. The number is likely to increase as Russia has announced a ceasefire to provide humanitarian passage. At present, the Ukraine Crisis has become the face of the struggle against invasion in the international arena with maximum attention. But amid the crisis, other refugee crises around the world should not lose attention as they are equally important to our collective responsibility. One such crisis is the ongoing Rohingya crisis, which is now lingering for five years without any visible solution.

After five years of the latest exodus, the Rohingya live in refugee camps at the border district of Cox’s Bazaar. Since the exodus, Bangladesh — the voice of the Rohingya in the international arena is exploring all possibilities to ensure their safe and dignified repatriation. But the latest coup in Myanmar in February 2021 has brought new realities. Since the coup, the repatriation process has been on halt. After a year of the coup, Junta is still relying on mindless violence and draconian governance against its oppositions amid an ongoing civil war. It also seems the Junta government has no willingness to repatriate the Rohingya. While the Junta is displaying indifference, Bangladesh and the world community are putting effort diligently. Gambia has filed case against Myanmar in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and the preliminary hearing about the merit of the case has taken place in recent times. While Gambia is arguing about the legitimacy of the case on behalf of the Rohingya in ICJ, another case is currently under investigation at the International Criminal Court (ICC). ICC’s prosecutors are currently building their case against the perpetrators over the allegation of crimes against humanity and genocide. Apart from international courts, another case is currently under judicial process in an Argentine court. But the legal procedures are taking too much time, and the repatriation process is still lingering.

While the legal efforts are taking place, the camp scenario in Cox’s Bazaar is worsening day by day. Maintaining “world’s largest refugee camp” in a border region is becoming a tough job for Bangladesh. As the repatriation process is lingering, the Rohingya are becoming more vulnerable and frustrated. They are engaging in illegal activities. They are being used in drug running. Gang culture is spreading in the camp. Violent extremist organizations are also finding their way into the camps. Camps in the borderland are also fueling transnational crimes making the Rohingya a victim of these transnational criminals in many ways. While Bangladesh relies on Bhasan Char’s temporary relocation plan to ease the demographic pressure in the camps, the project is small compared to the current number of Rohingya in the Camp. Bhasan Char will accommodate 100 thousand Rohingya while the current Rohingya population living in Cox’s Bazaar is around 1.2 million.

One challenging aspect for the camp management is the decline in the fund for the Rohingya. Rohingya camp management is reliant on international funding. But in recent years, the funds are declining. The decline is resulting in a budget shortage. And it creates new challenges, including housing, ensuring education, and maintaining law and order for the camp management.

Ukraine crisis will undoubtedly require new funds and support from international organizations and countries. This ‘additional’ fund would likely to shrink the donor’s purse. As a result, there is a chance that this new crisis may impact the Rohingya fund. The fund is already declining, and it should not decline further. Instead, it should increase to meet the demand to address growing challenges and concerns. Apart from camp management, the case against Myanmar in ICJ and the case against perpetrators in ICC also require funding. The international community should also ensure funding to these cases for a smooth procedure. Recently, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister also urged to finance Gambia for the case with his meeting with Canada.

Apart from the funding aspect, political pressure on the Junta should increase. In the absence of effective collective political pressure, Junta is getting away with committing one of the worst crimes of our time. Junta should not be given a free pass. Otherwise, it will be an ‘inspiring’ reference for the future perpetrators all over the world. Therefore, the international community must increase pressure to ensure safe repatriation.

And lastly, in Ukraine, the West has given a clear message about their belief in human rights and against aggression. They should also display the same in the Rohingya crisis. New crises should not make the world forget about the old ones. These are not isolated crises; instead, they are the same events on one thread and a continuation of aggression and violence in a global context. So, It is our collective responsibility to save the ”world’s most persecuted” community of our time while denouncing aggression and persecution of all forms across time and space.

[Photo by Seyyed Mahmoud Hosseini \ Wikimedia Commons]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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