Has Bangladesh Put Its Foot Down?

Bangladesh has closed its southeastern border with Myanmar amidst the Rohingya Muslim refugee crisis, sparking concern for the individuals at risk within the latter country. The Rohingya Muslim refugee crisis began in August of 2017, and has been called "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing" by the United Nations. The violence began in the Rakhine state of Myanmar, and initially targeted the Rohingya Muslim people of the Rakhine state. Since the initial violence began, there have been over 700,000 people that have fled the country into Bangladesh.

Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen addressed the recent border development last week, stating that the country does not have the capacity to host the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing into Bangladesh. Momen stated that while initially the refugees of the ongoing conflict were Muslim, there are now also Hindu and Buddhist individuals leaving the country as the conflict between the Rakhine army and the Myanmar army continues. Special UN envoy on Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener and special UNCHR envoy Angelina Jolie visited Bangladesh last week as well, specifically Cox’s Bazar, where a significant number of refugees are residing. The Times of India reported, “Momen said he told the UN envoy that Bangladesh was upset seeing that instead of mounting pressures, some big countries still kept ‘all kinds of bilateral relations including trade with Myanmar.’”

Foreign Minister Momen visited India from February 6th to February 9th as part of his maiden overseas visit after the December elections in Bangladesh. He met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj with the intent to discuss a solution to the Rohingya crisis, especially because it has the potential to affect regional stability tremendously. Momen has been pushing the creation of a “safe zone” in the Rakhine state that could be monitored by neighboring countries such as India and China to ensure the protection of the Rohingya population. Momen stated on Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, “If she had not given them shelter, it would have become the gravest and worst genocide of the century since WWII.” This call to international action comes with the closing of Bangladesh’s southeastern border, which has affected the influx of refugees into the country.

The paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) force has sent units to surveil the country’s border points with Myanmar, to prevent any more individuals from entering Bangladesh. The only legal movement for refugees is taking place on the Ukhia and Teknaf border points. This force has most recently stopped about twenty-two Rohingya Muslims from leaving the refugee camps and entering into Malaysia on Monday. There were ten children, eleven women, and a man that were caught, and they had paid about $1,200 each to smugglers for their journey. Last Friday, February 8th, the border guards came across and stopped about thirty Rohingya Muslim individuals from crossing into Malaysia, a Muslim majority country that many refugees are attempting to reach. Since November, there have been at least four incidences where the border guards have caught parties trying to reach Malaysia. This movement has sparked a lot of concern for the individuals trying to reach the country illegally, as traffickers can easily take advantage of the current dire conditions. The creation of a safe zone in the Rakhine State could lead to the return of hundreds of thousands of individuals to Myanmar, and could be a potential solution to the various human rights violations currently occurring due to the crisis.