Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 107, 10 June 2020

Rohingyas detained by Malaysia, refused by Bangladesh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

In the news

On 10 June, Bangladesh Foreign Minister rejected a Reuters news report about the Malaysian plan to ask Dhaka to take in 269 Rohingyas. The Rohingyas were detained after they sought to enter Malaysia near the Langkawi Island on a damaged boat wherein the body of a woman was also retrieved. Emphasizing that Bangladesh is not obligated or willing to take any of the refugees, the foreign minister added that even if the refugees are detained, Dhaka will have no say in the matter as they are not its citizens. 

Issues at large

First, a dangerous exodus of Rohingyas is a common sight. The reports related to the Rohingya refugees stranded in the sea or detained once they land in the destination countries are increasingly common. Since 2017 the exodus of the Rohingyas to Bangladesh have been taking place trying to escape Tatmadaw's brutal atrocity. The country has received more than seven lakhs refugees and has been vocal about their indisposition. Similar to Bangladesh, other countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and India have been reluctant to receive the Rohingya refugees as they are perceived to be a burden to the economy owing to them being unskilled or semi-skilled and also seen as a security threat due to their vulnerability and religion.

Second, lack of justice against inhuman treatment of refugees stranded at sea. The Rohingyas have been rendered stateless by Myanmar's 1982 Constitution, the country of their origin. Gambia has filed a case against the government of Myanmar and the military on charges of genocide against the Rohingya in the International Court of Justice. But forcing human beings to be stranded in the sea without food or water, pushing the boats once they attempt to land or detaining the refugees, are humanitarian crimes of grave concern. Malaysia, which is the most favoured destination for the Rohingyas undertaking the arduous journey in rickety boats and overcrowded fishing trailers, have been known to either push or detain. Similarly, when a mass of graves of shelter seeking refugees was unearthed in Thailand, no punitive action was taken against these crimes.

Last, the spectre of trafficking networks thrives on the refugees' desire to survive. The large picture is the trafficking racket that accentuates the plight of the refugees. The Cox's Bazaar district of Bangladesh which has the largest camps of the Rohingya refugees serves as the ideal geostrategic location for illegal human traffickers to operate. The Rohingyas who live in the ghettoed camps are restricted from employment and fall prey to the traffickers' promise of better livelihood that inadvertently pushes them to take the risky voyage. However, it is not only them, but several reports and also the UNHCR has shown that several Bangladeshis' have sought to claim themselves as Rohingyas in order to claim the perks and sympathy of being a Rohingya.

In perspective

These incidents and report could act as a catalyst to instigate Bangladesh to send the refugees to Bhasan Char. The government has already sent a batch of 25 refugees who were saved by the marine being stranded in the sea, to this uninhabitable island of Bhasan Char. However, instead of dusting away from their responsibility, the country should focus on the larger trafficking racket that assists these refugees to travel by boats to these destinations. 


Aparupa Bhattacherjee is a PhD scholar at the National Institute of Advanced Studies.

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