There is finally some good news to report for the Rohingya – albeit it offers little more than consolation. Last week, the UN said that it has registered over 250,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Denied citizenship in their homeland of Myanmar, the identity cards prove a right of return. These are the first identity documents that any of the Rohingya have received ever after being told by the Myanmar government that they were illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The tragedy is that now that around one million Rohingya are taking refuge in Bangladesh, the country would like to get rid of them as soon as possible. The official position Bangladesh is taking still promises to send the Rohingya back as soon as possible – without securing guarantees for their safety. The decision to provide ID cards to Rohingya refugees paints the Bangladesh government in some better light. It has been almost two years since the Rohingya of Myanmar were forced to flee from their homes in what the UN has called a ‘genocide’. However, there has been little sympathy from the international community and little desire to challenge the Myanmar government and charge those behind the brutal killing, rape and torture of the community.
Now that the Rohingya are in Bangladesh, the UN is part of an international effort to keep them in the refugee camps. Any Rohingya refugees who want to escape the camps, through often dangerous routes, to other countries are being actively stopped. Only last week, the Bangladesh police shot dead two Rohingya that it claimed were ‘human traffickers’, and stopped 103 refugees from leaving on a boat. The UN actually claims that the registration can serve as a tool for law enforcement to counter human trafficking. The risks of fleeing on boats can be accepted as a real one, but life in the refugee camps in Bangladesh is also precarious. The desire to find new homes – instead of being stuck in a refugee camp for who knows how long – is one that the Rohingya should be allowed to have. If Myanmar will not be their home again, then the world will need to find them a new home, or at least let them find new homes on their own. Stateless existence brings its own risks, but it should be possible to provide the Rohingya serious hope of being able to return to their homes in Myanmar. This is what the UN appears incapable of doing. There is growing desperation in the camps and registration will not solve it. It may be a positive step but it needs to be done for the right reasons, instead of the wrong ones.