Over half a million Muslim Rohingyas fled the persecution by Myanmar security forces in the northern Rakhine state into Bangladesh. The United Nations has called the persecution a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. The government has taken a number of steps to withstand this huge influx of Rohingyas. Some have hailed the initiatives, while some have been critical of them. Prothom Alo's AKM Zakaria spoke to ruling Bangladesh Awami League party presidium member Faruk Khan.
Prothom Alo: The government says Bangladesh has provided the Rohingyas shelter, but that's temporary. They came here prior to this recent crisis and we could not send them back. Would you admit the government's failure to address the crisis?
Faruk Khan: It's an old problem, true. From the very beginning, Bangladesh has been trying to solve this problem diplomatically. We have continued our efforts, even with bilateral initiatives. We know about the Kofi Annan Commission and its report. We have to keep in mind that the commission was formed by the Myanmar government and they did not do that without any reason. We have always pressed the Myanmar government to this end. You can say that they had to form the commission because of this pressure. So it cannot be said that we have fallen short.
We had a maritime dispute with Myanmar and we at first tried to settle this mutually. When that did not happen, we went to the International Criminal Court. This time we did not let the Rohingyas enter our territory at first. We asked the Myanmar government to stop the atrocities in the Rakhine state. We hoped that it would end soon, but the situation deteriorated so much that we had to provide shelter on humanitarian grounds.
PA: Bangladesh has brought the Rohingya crisis to the fore, but we could not make Myanmar stop the atrocities. The Rohingyas are still flooding in, and we unfortunately we have not got our neighbours beside us. They are with Myanmar, which many see as a failure on out diplomatic front.
FK: Any diplomatic initiative takes time. How can we come to a conclusion so fast? We have taken the issue to the United Nations and the Security Council has discussed it twice. The pressure on Myanmar is increasing. They have sent a minister to visit Bangladesh and they had to say that they would take their citizens back.
You have mentioned the roles played by China, India or Russia. But they too had to admit that there had been atrocities in Arakan. They acknowledge that Bangladesh is suffering because of the refugees. There are many facets of global politics and diplomacy. Myanmar said that they had been a victim of terrorist attacks, which the world has taken into consideration. Our prime minister has also said that our country does not support any militant activities. Diplomacy is a long process, we are working on different spheres. So I don't think we can discuss success or failure right now.
PA: You led an Awami League delegation to China recently. What message did you give the Chinese government on the Rohingya issue? How do they see this?
FK: We have been successful in convincing the Chinese leaders that if the Rohingya crisis lingers it would jeopardise the harmony in the region. They have welcomed our humanitarian decision to give them shelter. They asked how fast we want them to be rehabilitated back to their country. We said we want that to happen by the next rainy season. China want a solution to this end, but do not want it to be an international headache. They have already said that they are ready to help the rehabilitation process.
PA: You have mentioned the Myanmar minister's visit. Both the countries have agreed to form a joint working committee. But if we consider our previous experience on this issue with the Myanmar government, can we really be hopeful?
FK: The initiative is at the primary stage. We cannot speak about its results now. You can say that it's the beginning of something. But we have to wait till we can talk on the results or further development.
PA: Many suggest the engagement of international organisations to solve the Rohingya crisis. Without the engagement of the international community, they believe, the Myanmar government can't be compelled to take back its nationals who fled to Bangladesh.
Faruk Khan: What you have mentioned is mere a perception. A decision has been taken to constitute a working group between two countries, and Myanmar pledged to take back its nationals. This progress has happened in a visit. Our home minister will visit Myanmar soon. The entire process may be long. But the process is on. It would not be wise to reach a decision now. Time will say which path we should follow.
PA: China and India have an important role in the geo-politics of the region. Why is Bangladesh not giving importance to garner support from these two giants to solve the crisis?
Faruk Khan: How are you certain that is not happening? See, diplomacy is a long and continuous process. It goes on different tiers and stages. Everything is not revealed. We are working on all levels.
PA: Do you see any outcome from the steps you have taken so far?
Faruk Khan: Our steps have yielded results. We have been able to take the Rohingya issue to the international stage. The role of prime minister Sheikh Hasina has been lauded internationally. The prime minister placed the Rohingya crisis at the General Assembly of UN. The international community now knows what has happened and happening in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. An international opinion has been created through this. This is a great success.
PA: Thank you.
Faruk Khan: Thank you, too.
*The interview originally published in Prothom Alo Bangla print edition is rewritten in English by Quamrul Hassan