Extreme frustration pushes Rohingyas to high seas


During the past few years, the number of Rohingyas making journeys on the high seas with the hope of illegally migrating to several foreign destinations has been on rise. Meanwhile an unknown number of Rohingyas also have travelled to countries such as Australia, Malaysia, Thailand and lately Indonesia, while according to media report – taking undue advantage of this crisis, a large number of non-Rohingyas have also landed in a number of European nations, including Germany and sought asylum.

The Rohingya crisis itself is deeply complex. The Rohingya, a Muslim minority group in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, have faced decades of discrimination, statelessness, and violence. The 2017 military crackdown in Rakhine State led to a mass exodus, with hundreds of thousands fleeing to neighboring countries to escape persecution, primarily to Bangladesh. The dire conditions in refugee camps and the ongoing persecution have fueled a desperate quest for safety and stability, driving some to seek asylum in distant lands, including Europe.

While many who claim to be Rohingya refugees genuinely belong to this persecuted ethnic group and have faced unimaginable hardships, reports suggest that a fraction of those seeking asylum might not authentically belong to this community. The infiltration of non-Rohingya individuals, falsely claiming Rohingya identity to exploit the asylum system, has raised alarms among immigration authorities.

Germany, known for its welcoming stance toward refugees, has been a preferred destination for many seeking asylums. However, the influx of asylum seekers, coupled with the challenge of verifying their claims, has strained the asylum process. Identifying genuine Rohingyas among the applicants poses a significant challenge due to the lack of proper documentation and the difficulty in validating their origins.

But in recent weeks, the wave of Rohingya refugees illegally landing in Indonesia has generated serious concern within the Indonesian populace. According to Associated Press, hundreds of people protested against the continued arrival of Rohingya refugees by boat on an island in Indonesia.

Indonesia once tolerated such landings of refugees, while Thailand and Malaysia pushed them away. But the growing hostility of some Indonesians toward the Rohingya has put pressure on President Joko Widodo’s government to take action.

The president earlier this month said the government suspected a surge in human trafficking for the increase in Rohingya arrivals.

Commenting on influx of Rohingya refugees in Indonesia, Al Jazeera in a report said, “The people of Aceh have previously welcomed refugees, who are taken to a temporary camp before they are usually moved to other parts of Indonesia, but tensions have been escalating in recent years as more and more Rohingya have arrived”.

According to Reuters, “for years, Rohingya have left Buddhist-majority Myanmar where they are generally regarded as foreign interlopers from South Asia, denied citizenship and subjected to abuse.

“When seas are calmer between November and April every year, members of the persecuted minority leave on wooden boats for neighboring Thailand and Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia”.

Despite such disturbing scenario of Rohingyas landing in a number of countries as unwelcome refugees, San Thai Shin, a freelance journalist from Myanmar who currently resides in a refugee camp in Bangladesh tries to justify such actions stating: “The decision to make this treacherous journey is driven by the numerous challenges we face in refugee camps, including lack of basic security, limited access to higher education, and delays in repatriation”.

But such arguments cannot be acceptable to any country, including Bangladesh, which has been sheltering over 1.2 million Rohingyas since 2017.

Meanwhile, despite international pressure and agreements outlining the repatriation process, Myanmar’s actions have been characterized by delays and hesitations, leaving the Rohingya refugees stranded in Bangladesh and a number of countries.

The complexities underlying Myanmar’s reluctance to expedite the repatriation of Rohingya refugees are multifaceted. They stem from deeply rooted historical, political, and socio-cultural issues within the country.

Central to this issue is Myanmar’s long-standing denial of citizenship and basic rights to the Rohingya population, considering them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh despite their centuries-old presence in Rakhine State. This denial of citizenship perpetuates a cycle of statelessness and discrimination, rendering the Rohingya vulnerable to violence and systemic marginalization.

Myanmar’s internal dynamics further complicate the repatriation process. The power dynamics between the military and civilian government, historical ethnic tensions, and the complexities of implementing repatriation agreements hinder progress. The lack of a cohesive approach and consensus within Myanmar’s political landscape regarding the Rohingya exacerbates the delays in repatriation efforts.

Moreover, the conditions for safe and dignified return to Myanmar remain elusive. The absence of guarantees for the Rohingya’s safety, rights, and access to basic services in Rakhine State creates apprehensions among refugees and the international community. Reports of ongoing violence, restrictions on movement, and limited opportunities for rebuilding their lives in their places of origin contribute to the refugees’ reluctance to return.

Bangladesh, hosting a vast number of Rohingya refugees in overcrowded camps, has consistently advocated for their safe repatriation to Myanmar. However, the lack of substantial progress and assurances from Myanmar regarding the protection and rights of returning refugees has strained bilateral relations.

International pressure and diplomatic initiatives aimed at compelling Myanmar to expedite the repatriation process have had limited success. Persistent calls from the United Nations and other global entities urging Myanmar to create conducive conditions for the safe return of Rohingya refugees have not resulted in tangible outcomes. Meanwhile, Western nations and even wealthy Arab nations seem to be gradually losing interest in helping Bangladesh with required financial aid to provide food and other basic needs to the massive size of refugees. For Bangladesh, a densely-populated country with 170 million people, hosting over 1.2 million Rohingyas is becoming increasingly tougher.

Meanwhile, the massive size of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh is already posing a security threat to the country as amidst their struggle for survival, another grave issue has emerged – the exploitation of their vulnerability by terrorist groups and criminal organizations within the refugee camps. Furthermore, a significant portion of Rohingyas are willingly joining drugs, arms and human trafficking rackets, while hundreds of them are establishing connections with Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and other militancy outfits. Islamist forces such as Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami (Jamaat) also are exploiting the Rohingya refugees and recruiting them towards subversive acts mainly with the target of destabilizing Bangladesh’s law-and-order situation.

Most alarming fact here is – a significant number of Rohingyas landing in foreign countries by crossing high seas are already connected to transnational crime rackets – including drugs, arms and human trafficking gangs while many of them are also affiliated to terrorist groups. Meaning, these individuals may eventually pose a serious security threat to the respective nations, once they are granted shelter.

Terrorist organizations, leveraging the chaos and desperation prevalent in the camps, aim to radicalize disillusioned individuals and recruit new members. Their recruitment tactics prey on the frustration and despair of the Rohingya population, offering false promises of empowerment and revenge against their oppressors. Such activities not only pose a threat to the safety and stability of the camps but also risk exacerbating regional security concerns.

Moreover, criminal networks have infiltrated these camps, exploiting the lack of governance and oversight. They engage in illicit activities such as human trafficking, drug smuggling, and extortion, further compounding the challenges faced by the already vulnerable Rohingya community. The absence of robust law enforcement and regulatory mechanisms within the camps creates fertile ground for these criminal enterprises to thrive.

Bangladesh, grappling with the monumental task of accommodating and supporting the Rohingya refugees, faces immense challenges in addressing these security threats. The sheer size of the camps, coupled with the complexity of the refugee crisis, strains the capacity of law enforcement agencies and humanitarian organizations to maintain order and security effectively.

According to the ancient Hebrew principle of Pikuach Nephesh, ‘He who saves a life saves the world entire’. In an extraordinary act of compassion and courage, Sheikh Hasina, the longest-serving Muslim female prime minister, has emerged as the savior of over 1.20 million Rohingyas, rescuing them from ethnic cleansing and the threat of extinction. But now, after more than six years of granting them temporary shelter, Bangladesh too is getting impatient as until now there is no genuine sign from Myanmar of repatriation of this massive size of Rohingyas. Moreover, on Bangladesh’s part, the matter is a double-jeopardy as the country needs to spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year towards food and other basic needs of these Rohingyas – on the other hand – Rohingya camps are gradually turning into epicenters of high-crimes. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has saved 1.20 million Rohingyas from Myanmar junta’s genocide. She has carried her responsibility. Now it is up to the international community – including those wealthy Muslim nations to male unified efforts in resolving the crisis and until Rohingyas return to their homeland – Myanmar – there should be sufficient flow of foreign aid to meet basic demands of this massive size of refugees.


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