Category Archives: Myanmar Connect

LIVING A LOCAL LIFE: A MONTH IN MYANMAR

By Ria Bhagat

In November-December 2017 I was sponsored by the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to complete a three-week internship in Yangon, Myanmar through the New Columbo Program. As an undergraduate university student my work with an NGO at East Yangon University was not eligible for a business visa. Therein lay the challenge: how could I see the most of Myanmar while tied to the city of Yangon for three weeks?

On a 28-day tourist visa, one can hardly even scratch the surface of this complex country – and that’s without being tethered to Yangon for business days. Myanmar is home to more than 100 ethnic groups. Almost two thousand kilometres of land stretch from Arunachal Pradesh to the Bay of Bengal; including glaciers, coral reefs coastal wetlands and more. Do not make the mistake of looking for signs of Delhi in Yangon, or fall into the trap of comparing Ngapali Beach to Ko Samui. Though influenced by the cultures of the countries surrounding it, Myanmar is worth exploring because of its uniqueness, not its familiarity.

Yangon is a city full of life: enchanting, often perplexing and a worthy introduction to the country. In between aging colonial buildings are hints of a more vibrant reality: night markets with fresh river fish still squirming on ice, women and men in longyi of every colour of the rainbow and a skyline lit up by numerous gold pagodas.

In a city of over seven million, you can feel like you belong in a matter of days. This is especially the case if you make the effort to do so. Myanmar language is not broadly spoken outside of the country but smiles are easy to come by – as is curiosity. While you drink in your new surroundings, locals can spy you from afar. Whether a business colleague or a busy street side tea shop, foreigners are peppered with questions. The best way to respond? Tweya da wan ta bad de. ‘Pleased to meet you,’ and add a few questions of your own. When Myanmar citizens travel, it is not uncommon to hear people admit they know nothing about the country. A little effort goes a long way for foreigners to show their interest in Myanmar culture.

At East Yangon University, as with the majority of Myanmar, students dress in longyi every day. Girls often wear matching tailored tops (ingyi), and the traditional acheik water wave pattern competes alongside more contemporary designs featuring the likes of Hello Kitty and emojis. Individuality is permitted and even celebrated on social media; but the attire still lends a sense of uniformity to both the classroom and broader community.

Dressing and speaking like a local – even if in somewhat fragmented ‘Myanglish’ – provides a cloak for exploring. Perhaps only true locals will look forward to the unmistakable condensed-milk taste of Myanmar milk tea in the morning, but an aromatic bowl of mohinga is a breakfast to be savoured. The unofficial national dish of Myanmar is best enjoyed roadside, at a plastic chair and table, watching city life go by. Other staple dishes include Shan noodles and salads seasoned with fish sauce, lime juice and crunchy fried onions.

The best part of spending multiple weeks in a city is the opportunity to savour it. Directions are easy to remember; particularly in Yangon where streets are numbered. Restaurants can be visited 2 or 3 times. What was once unfamiliar becomes speckled with ‘favourite’ spots – the iconic Bogyok Market and its in-house seamstresses and artists; Maha Bandula Park with its perfect view of Sule Pagoda. Despite leaving the city at every opportunity provided – once even to dart across the river to a fishing village called Dala – Yangon was a wonderful welcome home.

BOGYOK MARKET

Each opportunity to see a piece more of Myanmar’s tantalising puzzle was unforgettable. Local travel agents are a valuable asset particularly as reliable online information can be hard to come by. ‘VIP’ bus is by far the most comfortable way to travel – if you choose the right provided and pay between $20-25 USD, the seats will be spacious, the coach will be air conditioned and sleep will be easy to come by. Internal flights are much quicker but also less reliable. When time is precious, choosing air travel is often unavoidable.

Mandalay also has an international airport and is well connected to the country’s most popular tourist sites. The city merits a visit by its own right; particularly for a weekend away from Yangon. Mornings in Mandalay are tranquil by comparison and leaving the south means escaping the heat. Beauty is everywhere and in different forms. On the outskirts of the nearby Anisakan village is Dat Taw Gyain, a 120m tall roaring waterfall. Kuthodaw Pagoda features the world’s largest book: comprised of two-metre-high standing stone pages. Mandalay Hill is an essential visit for sunset. Dotted with pagodas and monasteries along the way; Suntaungpyei Pagoda sits atop them all.

SULE PAGODA
Kuthodaw Pagoda

Mandalay is rife with opportunities for exploration and adventure. For just the opposite, the closest beach getaway by distance to Yangon is Ngwe Saung. The coastal village sits aside the Bay of Bengal, with access to snorkelling, swimming and snoozing for a deserved break from normal. Accommodation options vary from backpacker-style bunkers to resorts and villas; which means the company is diverse. Many in Myanmar wear thanaka, a traditional cosmetic product made from ground bark and it is particularly popular in Ngwe Saung for its sun protection properties. Seafood is a must here, as well is an Inle Lake, an undoubtedly more popular water destination for tourists.

The nearby township Nyaung Shwe is full to the brim with lake-oriented exploration activities; such as cycling routes around the shoreline and boat trips to floating markets and restaurants. Cooking classes and day spas are easy to come by, and a winery set atop a mountain provides another stellar sunset location.

Even with less than 48 hours to devote, Bagan is a non-negotiable part of any visit to Myanmar. Seeing the sun rise and set over thousands of thousand- year old temples is a breathtaking spiritual experience. Paying a $25 USD entry fee to the Bagan Archaeological Zone is worth it to contribute to the preservation and restoration of the temples; especially considering the complicated relationship with UNESCO. There is no need for an itinerary in Bagan. You simply hop on a bike, take along a map that is hardly worth glancing at and instead gaze at the endless miles of pagodas. Locals will tell you stories about their history and guide you to hidden staircases where you can ascend to a new view of the horizon. The experience is one that summarises travelling in Myanmar: difficult to plan, infinitely easy to enjoy and utterly unforgettable.

It is human nature to look for signs of home when faced with the unfamiliar. Leave this tendency behind when travelling in Myanmar. To the majority of the world, Myanmar is unfamiliar and that makes the prospect of discovery an opportunity that should not be passed off.

Courtesy –
Ria Bhagat is an Australian law student with many passions; two of which are protecting human rights and travelling the world.

JAPAN ENCOURAGES MYANMAR FOR SHRIMP FARMING

JAPAN ENCOURAGES MYANMAR FOR SHRIMP FARMING

Myanmar’s slackened shrimp exports has caused its largest export market – Japan to support Myanmar in mushrooming its shrimp export supplies and its capacity building aspects. A host of reasons leading to the culled supply of the same stems from the report detailing exports to Japan. The report is backed by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The reasons span from inefficient breeding technology, virus in the farmed fishery sector, loss of their natural habitat and inept preservation of fishery resources.

To allay the region’s limited supply of shrimps, Japan’s development aid agency has come forward to assist the country in boosting its export market and thus, enabled the Myanmar Trade Promotion Organisation(Myantrade) to review aquaculture practise. JICA’S mentor Mr. Kazuo Mishima asserted, “The country needs to increase its export supply capability as well as product quality and value.”

It’s been reckoned that the availability of 120,000 hectares of land and the right resources makes Myanmar fit for shrimp farming, given it is supported by the appropriate infrastructural requirements as per the department of Fisheries. On this, Vice Chair of the Myanmar Fisheries Federation Mr. U Kyaw Tun Myint expressed, “The Rakhine and Ayeyarwady coastlines can be used to farm and produce white Vietnamese shrimp for the purpose of export.”

The recent percentage of shrimp export from Myanmar to other countries is as follow – 24% to India, 4% to Japan and 27%to Vietnam. However, to accelerate this percentage share, productional raise of the shrimps has been proposed by Myanmar Trade Promotion Organisation (Myantrade) via tax incentives and procedural ease.

Recommendation of an effectual and sustainable aquaculture strategy to fix supply shortage of shrimps has led to framing of a National Aquaculture Development Plan (NADP) to formulate a long-term development of this sector.

MANGROVE FORESTS OF MYANMAR RECEIVE FINANCIAL AID FROM DENMARK

MANGROVE FORESTS OF MYANMAR RECEIVE FINANCIAL AID FROM DENMARK

As part of the Denmark- Myanmar 2016-2020 programme, Denmark shall assist and cooperate with Myanmar’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Conservation for a project on Administration of Mangrove Forests. Denmark’s Ambassador to Myanmar Mr. Peter Lysholt Hansen signed an agreement with the Environment Ministry at Nay Pyi Taw wherein Denmark has earmarked US$5.5 million for the project, along with its technical know-how. This assistance by Denmark is stipulated for a period of over five years, catering to the people of coastal regions of the Rakhine State and the Tanintharvi region.

The project strives to promote locally produced forests, discouraging excessive dependence on mangrove forests. With primary focus on environment protection and conservation, enhancing local’s capacity to concentrate on other projects while generating maritime business is also an underlined part of this association. Director General of Forest Department Dr. Nyi Nyi Kyaw remarked, “We will suggest best practices that won’t damage the environment and the daily lives of local people but will develop social and financial benefits.”

While observing the importance of mangrove forests in conserving the environment, Dr. Kyaw further highlighted the urgency of technical and financial aid in meeting the conservation needs sufficiently.

Sustainable development of mangrove forests is the need of the hour for Myanmar’s vulnerability to climate change is immense. Being reckoned as natural sinks of greenhouse gases and cyclone fighters for the well-being of coastal communities, mangrove forests need immediate rehabilitation and restoration.

GOVERNMENT OF MYANMAR VOUCHES FOR THE RIGHTS OF RURAL WOMEN

GOVERNMENT OF MYANMAR VOUCHES FOR THE RIGHTS OF RURAL WOMEN

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, a conference was held at the Myanmar International Convention Centre in Nay Pyi Taw. State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi while addressing the gathering, talked about the rights of the rural women, the need to promote them in order to build a better future and life. She pointed out the discrimination between men who are expected to move out for work while the women stay behind. Thus, highlighting the precarious state of rural women.

The State Counsellor urged the Health and the Sports Ministry to concentrate on the condition of the rural population, particularly women. The improvement in the status of their health conditions would be a reflection of development in the rural sphere, and in consequence, leading them onto the path of equality with the urban populace. She added, “The ministry will have to start by improving the health of children and mothers in the villages.”

Thus, shrinking of urban and rural gap is essential and imperative in accomplishing sustainable development goals, with development of women being at the core of this mission. Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Mr.U Win Myat Aye further stated, “If we utilise the existing resources more effectively for rural women’s development, there will be more success.”

Focussing on the nutritional requirements of the children, Aung San Suu Kyi expressed, “It’s crucial to develop the right mindset in your sons and daughters from the time they are born. Women are invaluable. No matter how much a father says he loves his children, there are only a few who can spend as much time with a child as a mother can.”

One of the development projects designed to uplift rural women is being implemented by the Rural Development Department called Mya Sein Yang project. This public- based project intends to electrify the villages that lie outside the purview of the power grids. Apart from this, various other village development projects impacting the lives of women have also been initiated.

MYANMAR AND THAILAND TO FORGE STRONGER TRADE TIES

Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Mr. Somkid Jatusripitak

Establishing newer and improved trade channels to facilitate enhanced cross- border trade between the countries of Myanmar and Thailand was recognised at the meeting held between the State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Mr. Somkid Jatusripitak in Nay Pyi Taw.

Mr. Somkid Jatusripitak while underscoring the significance of economic relations between the two neighbouring countries, expressed his willingness to support Myanmar’s agricultural and industrial sectors. Financially revamping, upgrading and developing the immature areas of the Myanmar-Thailand Highway was asserted and stressed upon by him to further strengthen Thailand‘s cordiality with Myanmar.

The Myanmar -Thailand Road is expected to swell trade, commerce and employment prospects along with enhancing connectivity to other South-East Asian countries. He proposed setting up of a specific community for the purpose of supplementing the upgradation work of the Myanmar-Thailand Road.

The possibility to accentuate trade along the border areas as a result of new avenues being opened up along the border was also mentioned in order to enable new routes for the purpose of cross- border trade between both the countries.

This integrative economic endeavour aims to forge a sense of economic equality between Myanmar and Thailand wherein Myanmar is being reckoned as a probable supplier of goods and services to the international community. Thailand’s trust in expanding Myanmar’s economic base to the global arena reverberates the impression – ‘Myanmar is the farmland, Thailand is the kitchen’. Chair of Thai- Myanmar Business Council and Deputy secretary general of FTI Mr. Panitarn Pavarolavidya exclaims, “We want Myanmar to be the farmland, and also the kitchen, so we will help until Myanmar and Thailand are able to stand equally in the supply change.”

UMWS TO LAUNCH ITS PRESENCE IN MYANMAR

Managing Director of UMWS – Mr. Atsushi Tomita

Leveraging the pervasive digital opportunities exploding the current scenario, United Motor Works (Siam) Public Co (UMWS) has exhibited its expansion plans in the region of Myanmar.

One of the foremost distributors of premium quality industrial and automotive tools and machinery in Thailand: UMWS is driven to extend its commercial presence in Myanmar primarily, followed by Laos, Malaysia and Cambodia in the span of three years.

Managing Director of UMWS Mr. Atsushi Tomita regards growth prospects through digital ventures extensive with its credibility of overcoming geographical barriers. Capitalising on Thailand’s immediate neighbour Myanmar seemed pertinent to him. Believing in shared beneficial arrangement between Myanmar and Thailand, he reckons Myanmar as their second largest market in ASEAN. He remarked, “The firm would officially launch in Myanmar by next year, bringing its Thai product range and other products to meet local market demands. It will mainly focus on handling and lifting equipment as well as automotive garage items.”

The way forward to grip the Myanmar market lies in embracing its local culture and in being able to strike a chord with its local people. He added, “We need to fit the culture and situation of Myanmar market and hope to ease our challenges by engaging with the right local
partner. We will ensure we recruit local people to manage the market.”

With a total of 8 million shares and current paid-up capital of Bt80 million, UMWS has 59 shareholders since its establishment as a public company in 1947. As per Tomita’s expansion roadmap, 10% of the firm’s registered capital is devoted toward that.

In its market segment, UMWS is positioned among the top three. Tomita plans to clock new milestones in Thailand before he expands his network to other nations and finds its presence in the ASEAN Economic Community. He says, “Depending on the demand, we will continue growing the overseas business further, hopefully to 50 per cent in the future.”

JAPAN’S YAMATO TO AID MYANMAR’S LOGISTICS MARKET

JAPAN’S YAMATO TO AID MYANMAR’S LOGISTICS MARKET

The ruffled circumstances brewing in Myanmar have not refrained Japan from being a constant in Myanmar’s economic upliftment. Its cordial gestures have time and again surfaced to ameliorate Myanmar’s business landscape.

Being disconnected from the commercial segment for long, the need to be integrated and linked with the regions around is a must for the nation to prosper. To cultivate circumstances of cross- border trade, Japan’s delivery giant – Yamato, emerged to provide operational and logistic support solutions to Myanmar. Along with its subsidiary based in Singapore and Aye International Group Company, a joint endeavour called Yamato Global Logistics Myanmar Company was shaped last December. Its scheduled to begin its operations from April.

With the support and services offered by Yamato, the import and export logistics involved between both the countries and further with the South-East Asian countries, is expected to bring efficiency in the whole system.

With the intent to build and mature operations in Myanmar and integrate it with the regional supply chain, solutions being forwarded by the Yamato Group comprise cross- border transport, warehousing, freight forwarding services, home relocation services etcetera.

Yamato Group expressed, “Our main target will be the B-to-B market, such as production goods market, consumer goods market, and B-to-B logistics such as procurement and delivery. We think our challenge will be how we can differentiate ourselves compared to our competitor, by providing added value to our forwarding businesses.”

Yamato’s Singapore subsidiary -Yamato Asia owns 80pc stake, with the contribution of US$400,000, and the domestic firm Aye International Group (AIG) owns 20pc stake with the coverage capital of US$100,000.

Being in the immediate geographical space with Thailand which is the regional centre of industrial activities, Myanmar’s participation in the region’s cross-border trade and logistics market was deemed essential and imperative by the Japanese delivery giant. Thus, the cross-border opportunities enabled by being part of the regional supply chain will bolster the manufacturing scope of consumer and industrial goods, along with its procurement and delivery aspects.

Thereby, with its expansion plans to Myanmar and Southeast Asia, Yamato Holdings have put Myanmar onto the path of acceleration and integration with the regional and global economy.

MYANMAR’S HEALTHCARE SEGMENTTO RECEIVE AID FROMINDIA’S EXIMBANK

MYANMAR’S HEALTHCARE SEGMENTTO RECEIVE AID FROMINDIA’S EXIMBANK.

India’s Exim Bank under its Market Outreach Programme has evinced interest to invest in the healthcare sector of Myanmar. Post its liberalisation, interest from the global sphere in Myanmar’s investment landscape has revitalised, making the country more engaged and interested in the buzzing economic prospects offered by the word outside.

To fiscally benefit and support Myanmar’s health segment, a delegation from India’s Exim bank reached Myanmar early February as part of the bank’s Market Outreach Programme. This programme was undertaken to help the people of Myanmar receive better medical facilities in their own country. India has been well equipped in treating health problems owing to its advanced medical expertise and knowledge. This arrangement aims to provide affordable and efficient medical attention to the ailing people of Myanmar and prevent the urgency to travel to countries abroad for an expensive medical treatment leading to outflow of foreign capital from the reserves of the country.

Along with it, the opportunity to finance Indian investment in Myanmar was reckoned tantamount to Government of India’s Act East Policy. The delegation, on studying various sectors in the region perceived healthcare domain as the most significant segment in need of private sector investments. The Market Outreach Programme was carried out by the Exim Bank at Hotel Sule Shangrila, in association with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

The delegation to Myanmar was led by the Deputy Managing Director of Exim Bank of India Mr. Debashish Mallick. Members from Indian private sector hospitals, medical equipment and devices manufacturers, pathology labs, and hospital management companies were part of the delegation.

MYANMAR GETS NEW TELECOM NETWORK – MYTEL

MYANMAR GETS NEW TELECOM NETWORK – MYTEL

With an extensive telecom sector already placed in Myanmar, country’s new and fourth telecom operator announced its presence at its launch ceremony held in Kempinski Hotel at Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar. With its predecessors – MPT, Telenor and Qatar positioned well in the telecom market, Mytel is all set to carve a niche for itself by reaching out to 92 percent of the country’s population with rural population in major focus.

Chief Communication Officer Mr. U Zaw Min Oo expressed, “In villages, people use more voice service than data. In regards to making profit in rural areas, I am afraid even the existing operators are not making profit from the rural areas. But we are trying.”

In a joint venture with Myanmar and Vietnamese firms, Mytel is owned by

Myanmar National Telecom Holdings Public Company Limited, Star High Pubic Company Limited and Viettel Global, with their percent stake as 23, 28 and 49 respectively.

While presiding over the launch ceremony of Mytel, Myanmar’s commander-in-chief Mr. Min Aung Hlaing talked about the lifestyle changes and the improved socioeconomic status of the people as a result of telecommunication systems.

It is estimated that Mytel SIM cards would be out in the market by March on 3G and 4G networks. Believers of Mytel intend to make their telecom operator the second largest in the next three years and first in the next five years.

The Commander-in Chief of Defence Senior General Min Aung Hlaing made the first call to Vietnamese Defence Minister Mr. Ngo Xuan Lich through Mytel operator.

Mytel intends to make use of the Asia- Africa- Europe submarine cables and reduce service charge to have an edge over its competitors.

With 1100 employees and more to get inducted as it begins its operations in March, it aims to cover 92 percent of the population, wherein 99.3 percent would be urban population and 66 percent would be rural population in voice calling service and 78 percent of the country’s population in data service.

With a 15 year term license and 18 branches across the country, Mytel plans to invest $2 billion in telecommunication and information technology to provide its services across Myanmar.

THE REPATRIATION OF THE ROHINGYAS: AN UNCERTAIN WAIT

THE REPATRIATION OF THE ROHINGYAS: AN UNCERTAIN WAIT

The ‘world’s most persecuted community’ is facing an uncertain future. Forced out of their homeland by a ruling establishment in the name of eradication of “terrorism”, the Rohingyas are now living in a pitiable state in the squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh. Those who once had roofs over their heads and farmlands to sustain on, now sleep under the plastic of tents, or unforgiving sky, and survive on succour from the contributions of donor nations and rights bodies. Since August 25, 2017 – the day when Myanmar began a crackdown on terrorists belonging to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), officially, in the Rakhine state – lakhs of Rohingyas have fled into neighbouring Bangladesh to escape the bullets of the Army. In a month from August 25, The Economist estimated that the weekly outflow of refugees from Myanmar was the highest since the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

Details of the persecution faced by the Rohingyas are horrific, to put it succinctly. Media reports speak of alleged violence against Rohingya women, children being thrown into fires, and people being shot and their bodies disposed of in the bushes and rivers that dot the landscape of the Rakhine state. Myanmar has repeatedly denied all the accusations levelled at it by international bodies including the United Nations.

In January, however, the Myanmar Army admitted to have killed 10 Rohingyas believing them to be ARSA terrorists on September 2, 2017, in the village of Inn Din, situated to the north of Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine. At the time of writing, it marks the only instance when the powerful Junta accepted a wrong, yet the word ‘terrorists’ associated with those killed appeared like a conspicuous excuse. This reflects on the fact that Myanmar has never recognised Rohingyas as their own people. This is why the Rohingyas have no rights till date in the land they have been inhabiting since before the Colonial times.

Myanmar’s de facto leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who had called the admission by the country’s Army “a positive step”, continues to be under tremendous pressure from rights bodies and other Nobel laureates who want her to actually do more to end the crisis – described by the UNHRC as “ethnic cleansing” – and not “stay silent”. On March 7, the US Holocaust Memorial revoked the prestigious Elie Wiesel Award from Suu Kyi while accusing her and her party, the National League for Democracy, for having “refused to cooperate with United Nations investigators, blocked access to journalists and promulgated hateful rhetoric against the Rohingya community”. While issuing threats to drag Myanmar to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for the “genocide”, Nobel laureates Shirin Ebadi from Iran, Mairead Maguire from Northern Ireland, and Tawakkol Karman from Yemen demanded that Suu Kyi take the Rohingyas back in and provide them with citizenship.

On March 6, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, said that systemic persecution of Rohingyas continue in Myanmar even though the violence has ebbed. Following a visit to the refugee camps in Bangladesh, he said that the new weapons of the Myanmar Army are “lower intensity campaign of terror” and “starvation” with a singular aim to force Rohingyas out of Rakhine and into Bangladesh.

Thus, as the persecution continues at home, Rohingyas are steadily entering Bangladesh – many of them crossing the Naf river, which marks a part of the border between the two nations and is closest to motorable roads leading to Cox’s Bazar.
Mr. Masud Bin Momen, Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations, countered claims that the arrival of refugees has gone down by stating that some 1,500 Rohingyas had crossed into Bangladesh in the first 10 days of February alone. According to reports, the new refugees continue to point at the same atrocities which have been driving the Rohingyas out of Myanmar since August.

According to the United Nations, the total number of refugees in Bangladesh since the start of the crisis in August now stands at around 700,000. But Bangladesh has been a shelter for the Rohingyas, a huge majority of whom are Muslims, even before. There were already over 300,000 Rohingyas in Bangladesh who arrived during similar periods of persecution since 1980s. In mid-January, Bangladesh had registered over a million Rohingyas living in various refugee camps in the country, most of whom are concentrated in Cox’s Bazar district in south-eastern Bangladesh. It is this district which serves as the new ‘home’ of the Rohingyas and is the focal point for rights bodies, administrations and the media who want to document the horrors faced by the persecuted community.

According to Mr. Abu Noman Mohammad Zakir Hossain, Deputy Director of Bangladesh’s Passport and Immigration Department, that one-million-mark is 95 percent of the total number of Rohingyas in Bangladesh.
So, this brings us to the question: How will Bangladesh, a densely- populated and economically struggling nation, deal with the Rohingya crisis?

Dhaka and Nay Pyi Daw had in November 2017 reached an agreement on repatriation of the Rohingyas. They had then agreed that the repatriation of the Rohingyas who arrived in Bangladesh since last August will commence within two months. It was estimated that all of the Rohingyas will be resettled in Myanmar in the next two years. Following the news of the agreement and the registration of Rohingyas, hopes of a positive future rose in the hearts of those looking for peace and settlement of the crisis. But on January 22, Bangladesh said that the process will be delayed. Dhaka cited lack of preparations on the ground for the safe return of the refugees.

According to Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, Mr. Abul Kalam, Dhaka still had to “build some physical infrastructure, a transit camp and prepare the list based on family and village”. He had also said that Nay Pyi Daw, too, had to “do a lot to ensure a safe repatriation” even though Myanmar claimed that it was ready. According to the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper the government was making final preparations to house the repatriates at a camp near Maungdaw in western part of Rakhine.

Yet rights groups, too, have expressed concerns about the fate of Rohingyas after they return to Myanmar. Gilmour had raised doubts over the repatriation of the refugees under “current conditions”. The Rights groups and Bangladesh are not the only ones with concerns. The Rohingyas themselves have a lot to say. In January, some leaders of the community showed a list of demands to a Reuters journalist they said should be fulfilled before the repatriation process. Among the demands are release of “innocent Rohingya” the Army detained during the operations against ARSA and a call to hold the military accountable for the alleged crimes.

And even if the repatriation takes place according to the agreement in the near future, where would the Rohingya go? According to the non-profit Human Rights Watch, the Myanmar government has been razing houses in abandoned Rohingya villages. The HRW says that the villages should be “preserved” so that UN experts can document the abuses on the Rohingyas.
So, we are back to square one. For whatever reasons, Bangladesh is unable to repatriate the Rohingyas, and that could translate into a major problem for both Dhaka and the Rohingyas.

Hossain had said that the primary goal of registering the Rohingyas – for which fingerprints, too, were taken – was to prevent them from taking Bangladeshi passport. This means that Bangladesh is in no mood to give the refugees permanent residency and citizenship. Of course, Dhaka has the right not to. The governments of Malaysia and Indonesia – both Muslim-majority nations – do not recognise the Rohingyas living in their countries. But they have been at the forefront of the voices calling for return and rehabilitation of Rohingyas in Myanmar.

There are also some hard truths about Bangladesh. With over 1251 persons per square kilometre, Bangladesh is the world’s most densely-populated country among nations where the population is more than 10 million. Though Bangladesh has steadily clocked a modest GDP growth rate of around 7 percent, a sharp rise in population of the magnitude witnessed in the refugee crisis can go terribly wrong for an economy if not handled deftly.

Early in January, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) Rohingya Emergency Vulnerability Assessment had raised a red flag over under-nourished refugees in Bangladesh’s camps who, at the time, were over 90 per cent of the recent refugee arrivals. And while praising Bangladesh’s humanitarian response, Gilmour had also pointed at the danger lurking in the form of approaching rainy season which have the potential to turn the camps into breeding grounds for diseases.

And then there is always the threat of radicalisation looming large in Bangladesh, which poses a direct threat to peace in the region. Bangladesh’s road transport minister in Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s cabinet, Obaidul Quader, had in December 2017 claimed that Pakistan’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was plotting with terrorist elements within the Rohingyas to create disturbance in the region. His concern doesn’t appear misplaced given the fact that the ARSA is led by Karachi-born Ata Ullah.

Radicalisation of Rohingya refugees in the camps has been a concern of many given the rise of fundamentalism in Bangladesh. Though the Bangladeshi government has always championed secularism in the country, it has failed in protecting scores of liberal bloggers and writers from fundamentalists in the recent past.

Aware of the risks faced by her country, Sheikh Hasina had in February urged India to “put pressure” on Myanmar to make them take back the refugees quickly. India, too, has expressed concerns over risk of radicalisation of the 40,000 Rohingyas who live in world’s largest democracy. That there is a risk to Bangladesh can be read from Myanmar’s January demand asking Dhaka to arrest and extradite over 1,300 Rohingyas suspected of taking part in the assault in August 2017 on checkpoints which triggered the aggressive retaliation by the military.

And how will Bangladesh feed the lakhs of mouths who will obviously multiply in the future? Dhaka depends on international funding for providing relief to the refugees. But, as Nazneen Ahmed pointed out, funding will not go on forever. The BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), BRAC University, staff member wrote in The Daily Star that amount of humanitarian assistance is at the discretion of the donor, will continue till the next big crisis comes up, and is dependent on changing patterns in global economy. So, in short, Bangladesh cannot keep the Rohingyas forever by relying on international aid alone.

The pressure on Bangladesh is so intense that it will take the entire international community’s coordinated efforts to lift it off Dhaka’s shoulders. But is the international community doing enough to find a permanent solution to the problem? Will Bangladesh bear the weight all alone and if it does, will it follow Malaysia’s example? What about the security risk to the region if the Rohingyas, many of whom must be harbouring resentment towards Buddhists, are not repatriated? What about Myanmar’s concerns regarding ARSA and how should the UN deal with Nay Pyi Daw? And what about UN Security Council’s consensus on the matter given that Russia and China – two Veto powers – are on a slightly different tangent with regard to Myanmar?

There are a lot of questions but the biggest one is: Will the Rohingyas continue to remain the lesser humans?

Courtesy:
Manas Sen Gupta is a journalist who writes avidly on International Relations and Foreign Policy

Disclaimer:
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect the views of the editorial team of Myanmar Matters.