Facing refugee crisis
Professor Dr. Mamun Al Mahtab :
Since the day Bangladesh proclaimed Independence, 'refugee' is a word that became part and parcel of the Bangladeshi life style and our vocabulary. With one seventh of the population having been forced to accept the life of refugees in neighboring India as a result of the brutal atrocities by the Pakistan army and their local collaborators during the nine months of our direct Liberation War in 1971, no nation perhaps has such firsthand knowledge and experience of a refugee's life than the Bangladeshis.
And in fact even before that in 1947, when British India was partitioned into India and Pakistan, today's Bangladesh also experienced a mass exodus of refugees from the bordering areas of India. Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh herself has firsthand experience of a refugee's life as she along with her younger sister Sheikh Rehana and her family were exiled in India for almost half a decade following the brutal assassination of her father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Father of the Nation of Bangladesh and the rest of her family members on August 15, 1975.
The Rohingya refugee crisis attracting world attention in the recent past, is in fact the longest running refugee crisis of the world. Bangladesh has been hosting these displaced citizens of Myanmar since the mid-1970s in significant numbers, but hardly the world community showed any interest to their cause. It is only just over an year back, the Rohingyas finally made it to the headlines in the world media after more than a million of them had to flee to the safety of Bangladesh over a very short span of time, after the Myanmar army and Buddhist monks cracked down on them with shameful brutality than can not be described in words.
The refugees were greeted with the best possible humane touch by government and the people of Bangladesh. They were fed, sheltered and all their basic human demands were fulfilled to such levels that they had never experienced back home.
Having visited the Rohingya refugee camps on multiple occasions in multiple capacities, including as an activist investigating the atrocities committed against the Rohingya people as a member of a civil society facts finding commission and as a medical researcher trying to find out the prevalence of deadly hepatitis viruses among them, I have known this crisis and seen it evolve much closer than many of my own countrymen.
With minimum support from beyond our boarders and maximum affection from the locals and the government in power the Rohingyas are gradually naturalizing in this country. Hardly they remain confined within the boundary-less boundaries of their camps. They are gradually getting involved with economic activities. Demands of their everyday life is taking a toll on the local ecology and environment, not to mention being just double in number compared to the local population in the two sub-districts where they are staying, namely Ukhia and Teknaf, their presence is disrupting livelihood, income, economy and lifestyle of the local inhabitants to extreme extremes.
Besides the huge presence of government machinery, security agencies and foreign NGO and relief and rehabilitation workers are posing negative impact to some extent on the local infrastructure and commodity prices. Although the Rohingyas are not having the best of living conditions, but are safe and surviving, in fact surviving very well, but life in a foreign land is the last thing desirable by any human being. On the contrary the locals have started paying the price of their generosity. Most importantly whether we like to admit it or not, it is a reality that extremist groups including ARSA and others are active among the Rohingya people and it will not come as a surprise if some of the Rohingyas, despite all efforts by the local administration and community, eventually become radicalized out of sheer frustration and the fresh memories of atrocities committed against their families and friends.
[Professor Dr. Mamun AI Mahtab is Chairman, Department of Hepatology, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University & Member Secretary, Sampritee Bangladesh]