Cost of Supporting Rohingyas: Dhaka now saddled with $1.2b a year

Experts say the figure may rise
Diplomatic Correspondent


♦ UN, China, ASEAN must play stronger role

♦ Dhaka should adopt a robust and creative diplomacy

♦ Engage Myanmar’s civil society, media, and retired military personnel

♦ Bangladesh needs a clear policy on handling Rohingyas

♦ Ensure education, health, and social protection for Rohingyas

Bangladesh’s economy is burdened with an estimated $1.21 billion a year for supporting the Rohingyas  and the cost may go up with their population growth,
inflation, and decline in foreign funding, experts said yesterday.

The refugees are providing cheap labour and are involved in small businesses in Cox’s Bazar and these are driving wages down and shrinking job opportunities
for locals, they said at a roundtable, adding that the cost of living for locals has also gone up.

They feared that damage to forests and other natural resources could also impact tourism in Cox’s Bazar, home to some 12 million Rohingya, including
743,000 who fled a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state since August 2017.

Two repatriation attempts – one on November 15 and the other on August 22 – failed as the Rohingyas refused to return without guarantee of citizenship and
safety in Rakhine where the conflict flared up since early this year.

“Even if repatriation starts, it will take many years to complete. Thus, the Rohingya presence is likely to create serious fiscal burden on Bangladesh,” said
Prof Abdur Rob Khan of the department of political science and sociology at North South University.

It said hosting the Rohingya for the first five years with no repatriation would require over $7 billion.

Analysts said foreign funding already seems to be going down as only 38 percent of the $920 million budget for the Rohingyas this year has been committed.

“Bangladesh has a small economy. Yet, we have sheltered the Rohingyas. The question is how long can we continue with the burden,” said M Jashim Uddin,
associate professor of political science and sociology at NSU.

It is a security threat for Bangladesh and the region, he said, adding that all countries of the world want a solution, including Myanmar’s close allies.

The problems are Myanmar’s constant denial of international human rights tools and UN Security Council’s failure to take concrete actions against the atrocities
in Myanmar. There are allegations of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity, he said.

“Without a strong UN role and China’s active mediation, there is little chance of repatriation of the Rohingyas,” Jashim said.

Security analyst Brig Gen (retd) Shahedul Anam Khan said locals were angered by Rohingyas getting involved in crimes like drug trafficking, arms smuggling,
and taking away job opportunities. Regional militant groups were also showing interest in the Rohingyas, he said.

Extremists would have massive recruitment opportunities if the crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine state was prolonged, he said.

Shahedul, also associate editor of The Daily Star, suggested dialogue between members of the civil societies, the media, and retired military officials of Bangladesh
and Myanmar with continued diplomatic moves.

Former ambassador Humayun Kabir said Bangladesh has been reasonably successful in highlighting the Rohingya crisis globally after the 2017 influx but has yet
to make a breakthrough in terms of repatriation.

He said Bangladesh’s highlighting of the crisis before the global community has to be translated into influence on Myanmar to address the crisis. Economic
sanctions by the US, EU, Canada, and other powerful countries and unions could have some impact, he added.

Kabir said radicalisation was observed among Myanmar’s general and military people and nationalism outside Myanmar was quite strong too. Muslims across the
globe were under pressure, he said, adding, “So, how they will deal with the Rohingyas is a question.”

Noting the growing nationalism in some countries, NSU Vice-Chancellor Prof Atiqul Islam asked if it was a sign of the “cycle of civilization going backwards”.

Former foreign secretary Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury suggested stronger role of the UN, China, and Asean countries in influencing Myanmar to take back its nationals.

The Rohingyas are demanding citizenship, which is legitimate, but that is not Bangladesh’s job to ensure, he added.

Brig Gen (retd) M Sakhawat Hussain said Bangladesh has kindly sheltered the Rohingyas when they were facing genocide but it cannot throw them out of the
country now.

A strong and steady diplomatic approach, involving the international community, is the best way, he added.

Analysts said as long as the Rohingyas stay in Bangladesh, their health, education, and social protection need to be guaranteed.

Maheen Sultana of Naripakkha said even though Bangladesh was not a party to a UN refugee convention, it could use its domestic laws to curb crimes in Rohingya
camps, including child marriage, which is widespread.

She said the Rohingyas, including the women, should have a voice in the negotiations regarding repatriation.

NSU Prof Biswas Karabi Farhana suggested taking care of the damaged forests by planting indigenous trees and checking high rates of surface and ground water
pollution in and around the refugee camps.

NSU Prof Salahuddin M Aminuzzaman moderated the discussion addressed also by former ambassador Shamim Ahmed, Dhaka University Prof ASM Ali Ashraf,
NSU teachers SK Tawfique M Haque, Mahbubur Rahman, Kamal Uddin Ahmed, Bulbul Ashraf Siddiqi, NSU Director of External Affairs Katherine Li, and
UNHCR Senior Protection Officer Haruno Nakashiba.