The security situation in the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar keeps going from bad to worse. Last week, three more prominent members of the displaced refugees were killed within three days inside the camps by unknown assailants. The method and targeting behind the killings suggest the involvement of a militant group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, or ARSA. Two of them acted as the head majhi and subhead majhi of one camp, while the other was known to be vocal against the ARSA. Just the previous week, yet another prominent leader of one of the camps was shot, but survived.
Including the latest killing, 14 people have been killed inside the camps during the last four months, of whom eight were serving in voluntary community leadership roles such as ‘majhi’ and ‘head majhi’. After a lull that followed a security clampdown prompted by the killings of prominent Rohingya leader Mohibullah in September 2021, it would seem the destabilising forces have become newly emboldened to carry out their activities. This obviously doesn’t bode well for Bangladesh as it looks to start the process of repatriating the hapless refugees back to Myanmar, for which Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen met with Chinese Ambassador Li Jiming this week. Four years ago, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an agreement for starting repatriation of the Rohingya refugees to Myanmar under a tripartite mechanism brokered by China, but the process remains stalled.
Unfortunately, it couldn’t quite be described as a fruitful meeting, as the foreign minister was only able to come away with reiteration of some previous commitments. The current Myanmar government honours all the previous agreements signed between Dhaka and Naypyidaw and expressed willingness to take back the Rohingyas ‘after verification’, Momen told reporters following the meeting. Given that is the case, the deteriorating security situation in the camps is likely to be seized upon by the Myanmar government as a reason to keep stalling. The foreign minister also noted that no prospective date was discussed as the starting point for repatriation, which in any case is expected to be a long, drawn-out process once it starts.
With no sign of repatriation combined with a lack of economic opportunities and the difficulty in maintaining law and order in overcrowded camps, frustrated Rohingya are increasingly becoming involved in criminal activities or being targeted by criminal groups. They are also taking part in trans-border crime, including human trafficking, extremism, and arms smuggling and the camps can be a potential base for extremist activities and the insecurity in the camps and border could create insecurity for South Asia. Though Bangladesh has taken several measures to ensure the security of these displaced people, it is tough to maintain law and order in the densely populated camps near the border. Therefore, the safe, sustainable, and dignified return of these displaced people is the only solution. Rohingya refugees have also expressed their desire to go home.
Not just Bangladesh and Myanmar, but rather the international community, should act together to facilitate Rohingya repatriation to ensure the security of the displaced population as well as the region before it’s too late.