Three years have gone by since massacres in Myanmar prompted hundreds of thousands of the Rohingya Muslim minority to flee the country. Bangladesh has since urged Thailand to help push for a repatriation plan after it was stalled by the coronavirus.
In an interview with the Bangkok Post on Monday, Nazmul Quaunine, Bangladesh’s ambassador to Thailand, said the pandemic has hampered delegation visits and sparked fears of a virus outbreak inside refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar housing over a million refugees.
“If it happens, it will be a serious situation. Our government has given all kinds of support in terms of food and security … But the negative consequences of not resolving the issue are still here, such as women trafficking, abuse of children, and drug problems,” he said.
Mr Quaunine urged the international community, including Thailand, to highlight this issue given that not a single group of the Rohingya has returned to Myanmar, adding that stakeholders should create confidence and guarantee their basic rights.
Previous repatriation attempts failed because refugees refused to take part out of fear for their safety. This month marks the third anniversary of their exodus which started on Aug 25, 2017. However, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi dismissed the accusation of genocide at the UN International Court of Justice (ICJ) last year.
Forging closer ties
Formerly East Pakistan, Bangladesh emerged as a country in 1971 when the two parts of Pakistan split after an independence war. Thailand gave official recognition to Bangladesh and established diplomatic ties in 1972.
Mr Quaunine said Bangladesh and Thailand are closer than people think because they share historical roots in religion and language.
“Many of our Bangladeshi places have historical evidence of the Buddhist civilisation. Thai and Bengali letters have a connection with the Sanskrit. This is our old linkage,” he said.
Mr Quaunine said air travel has substantially boosted people-to-people contact. While over 100,000 Bangladeshis come to Thailand each year, only 5,000 Thais visit the country on the Bay of Bengal, which boasts the world’s longest sea beach at Cox’s Bazar and the largest mangrove forest — the Sundarbans — both of which are on the Unesco World Heritage List.
In the wake of the outbreak, he said the embassy has so far arranged five repatriation flights for around 200 nationals stranded in the kingdom. There are over 2,000 Bangladeshi expats here.
Founding father centenary
Mr Quaunine said this year, Bangladeshis are celebrating the centenary of the birth of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country’s founding father, who led national movements that gained independence from West Pakistan in 1971.
“[However,] on Aug 15, 1975, he was assassinated by disgruntled army officers. They killed not only him but also his family members, except his two daughters. The eldest daughter is now our prime minister. The youngest daughter is living in the UK,” he said.
For Bangladeshis, August is the month of mourning. They commemorate the assassination of their founding father in a military coup on National Mourning Day today. In Thailand, they observe the event at the embassy and the Islamic centre in Bangkok.