HOW MANY ARE REALLY BANGLADESHI?
We have good reason to believe that the number of Bangladeshis among the migrants is being exaggerated. Their actual number can be known only after proper verification
In a foreign ministers’ meeting in Seoul on May 22, Indonesian officials told Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop that only 30% to 40% of those stranded on boats were Rohingya refugees. Indonesia’s director general of multilateral affairs, Hasan Kleib, said that out of 600 people rescued, 400 were Bangladeshis. “They [Indonesia] believe there are about 7,000 people at sea (and) they think about 30% to 40% are Rohingya, the rest are Bangladeshi.”
Strangely enough, Dr. Ayaz Chowdhury, the president of the Bangladesh Forum for Community Engagement in Sydney, said that while Indonesia’s figures were technically correct, the Bangladeshis were still in need. “I believe what she’s [Ms Bishop’s] saying is true, and they are the poor people of Bangladesh who do not have the economic means to have even a reasonable life in Bangladesh.”
How can one, living in Sydney, make such a statement without verifying the identity of the people on the boat? It is also doubtful if he has any idea about the present economic condition of the country. He should have been more cautious in making such damaging statements without any proof of what he was stating.
Myanmar’s navy recently brought ashore 200 migrants — calling them Bangladeshis — found on a boat off its coast, after its military chief said some of the thousands of migrants that have landed in Malaysia and Indonesia this month are pretending to be Rohingya Muslims to get UN aid.
A Bangladeshi delegation is ready to depart for Myanmar to verify the nationality of the 208 migrants, victims of human trafficking, recently rescued from sea. The team will verify whether the migrants belong to Bangladesh in view of the government announcement of bringing back the Bangladeshis now adrift at sea.
The recent tragedy of the migrant Rohingyas from Myanmar, formerly Burma, and the Bangladeshis sailing illegally in small and overcrowded boats towards Malaysia, drew the attention of the international media. Abandoned by the traffickers at high sea, without food and water, they have become the victims of the worst slave trade of the 21st century.
Many have died out of starvation and some were even drowned. About 3,500 migrants have found temporary shelter in Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. Several thousand more are believed to be adrift in the Andaman Sea.
The Muslim Rohingyas of Myanmar are discriminated against, persecuted, and practically stateless in their own country where they have been living for generations. Not surprisingly, Rohingyas began to flee in hundreds of thousands to neighbouring Bangladesh since 1978. After intensive negotiations, mediated by UN, the Myanmar government agreed to take back 200,000 refugees. Even now, there are about 29,000 Rohingyas in Bangladesh.
In 2012, there was a series of riots between Rohingya Muslims, who are majority in the northern Rakhine, and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, who are the majority in the south. According to the Myanmar authorities, the violence left 78 people dead, 87 injured, and up to 140,000 people displaced.
It is understandable why Rohingyas are so desperate to leave Myanmar and settle in other countries, but why Bangladeshis? They are not stateless. There is no persecution against them. Why should Bangladeshis leave Bangladesh so desperately and in such large numbers? These questions cast doubts on the actual number of Bangladeshis among the people on the boat.
It is well-known that the Rohingyas are persecuted in their own country. They flee from Myanmar and take shelter in Bangladesh and other countries for security and livelihood. Under such circumstances, why should Bangladeshis claim to be Rohingyas and face the same dreadful consequences? It sounds strange in view of the experiences of many Rohingyas who were arrested in many countries.
It has been noticed in many instances that whenever the Rohingyas are caught by the police for either illegal entry or any other crime in foreign countries, they usually claim to be Bangladeshis in order to get consular services.
If they claim to be Rohingyas, they are sure they will receive no service from the Myanmar embassy as they are not recognised as their citizens. The Rohingyas are, in fact, tarnishing the image of Bangladesh abroad. So, not everyone claiming to be Bangladeshi is likely to be so.
We have good reason to believe that the number of Bangladeshis among the migrants is being exaggerated. Their actual number can be known only after proper verification. It is, therefore, important that Bangladesh embassies abroad promptly and carefully verify the identities of all those rescued who claim to be Bangladeshis and clarify any inconsistencies.
Abdul Matin is a retired nuclear engineer
MAY 26, 2015