‘Climate of fear’ . . .
On Friday, seven Rohingya refugees were murdered at a madrassa (an Islamic religious school) in Bangladesh, less than a month after the assassination of Mohibullah, a Rohingya community leader. Both incidents occurred in refugee camps that house approximately 900,000 Rohingya who fled persecution in neighbouring Myanmar. The killings mark a disturbing deterioration in safety in these facilities, especially for activists, aid workers, and women, who describe a pervasive “climate of fear.” One suspect was apprehended after last week’s attack, but the other perpetrators remain unknown. The murders are believed to have been committed by fellow Rohingya.
Murky motives . . .
There is no shortage of speculation as to who committed these crimes and their motives. Some blame Mohibullah’s killing on the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a militant group that opposes his embrace of a possible “dignified” repatriation of the Rohingya to Myanmar. ARSA denied any involvement in his death. The motives behind last week’s killings remain unclear. There has also been a rise in violence against Rohingya women. Some of these attacks appear to be criminal – gangs extorting women who do paid work. Others appear ideological in nature – Muslim extremists targeting them for working outside the home.
From bad to worse . . .
A long-term solution to the Rohingyas’ plight is looking as elusive as ever. Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recently reminded the international community that her government has no intention of settling the Rohingya permanently. The February coup in Myanmar, however, makes the repatriation option untenable. Meanwhile, in August, the UN reported that 2020 was the deadliest year on record for those fleeing Bangladesh by sea for nearby countries like Malaysia or Indonesia. Since the onset of COVID-19, these countries have tightened their borders even further, leaving many boats stranded at sea. A growing number of the asylum seekers on boats are women and children, who are particularly vulnerable to smugglers. Some humanitarian workers are concerned that the Rohingya might be forgotten as the international community turns its attention to Afghan refugees. The Canadian government, which has made the Rohingya a foreign policy priority, has an opportunity to show leadership by ensuring the issue remains in the global spotlight.
- The Diplomat: Why is the world ignoring repatriation of Rohingya refugees?
- Human Rights Watch: Bangladesh: Rohingya refugee activists at risk
- The New Humanitarian: As violence soars in refugee camps, Rohingya women speak up