Zulfiqur Rahman, the Bangladeshi ambassador to Turkey, speaking to Today’s Zaman in an exclusive interview, has claimed that the violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar is an issue that should be dealt with internationally, urging big international powers “to take the opportunity to engage with the Myanmar government” to encourage them to accept a peaceful return of Muslim refugees living in Arakan province to their homeland.
Official statistics say more than 1,000 Rohingya Muslims living in Myanmar have been killed and more than 90,000 have been left homeless due to the violent events that Rohingya Muslims have been facing since June. Rohingya Muslims are not seen as genuine Myanmar citizens by nationalist Myanmar leaders, officials and fanatical Buddhists and in turn are exposed to discrimination.
A total of 1 million Muslims live in Arakan province in Myanmar, the location of the recently escalating violence in the country, near Bangladesh. The first sign of violence appeared in June after claims that three Rohingya Muslims raped a Buddhist woman. After the incident, fanatical Buddhists started killing Muslims living in Arakan province and also burned houses and workplaces belonging to the minority group.
The ambassador stated that the real solution to the problem of the Rohingya Muslims is neither extending charity nor providing a third country for settlement, but to engage in collective diplomatic talks with the Myanmar government to provide a “voluntary and dignified return for Rohingya Muslims to the place of their origin” and to create conditions so that they can live there.
Rahman underlined the importance of investment in creating the necessary developmental conditions in the country. Mentioning the Bangladeshi government’s own efforts to increase trade and investment in Arakan province, Rahman also called on Western powers and influential countries in the Muslim world, including Turkey, to invest in that part of the country. He also said that Myanmar’s 1982 citizenship law was “the root cause of all the problems,” as it deprived Muslim population in the country from basic citizenship rights and that it needed to be changed.
In remarks explaining what the Bangladeshi government asks of Ankara on the problem, Rahman claimed that Turkey should raise its voice in the Asian world, as “an emerging regional leader that also has a leading role in global platforms, due to its economic and political power.” Rahman asked Ankara to organize Asian countries to collectively engage with the Myanmar government in diplomatic talks to stop the violence and to improve the living conditions of Rohingya Muslims.
He also claimed that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) could do a lot for Rohingya Muslims, drawing the attention of the UN and countries such as the US and other Western powers to the plight of Muslims in that part of the world.
The OIC held a consultative meeting with civil society and humanitarian organizations from the Muslim world on Friday in Kuala Lumpur to discuss the critical humanitarian conditions of the Rohingya Muslims.
After the meeting, a committee to follow up developments of the humanitarian conditions in Arakan province and to communicate with all the concerned parties was founded, comprising representatives from OIC member states and the UN.
Rahman claimed that the Bangladeshi government would stick to its position and will not accept any more Rohingya Muslims into its territory as refugees because the country is not able to cope with a further influx of refugees. Bangladesh already hosts 30,000 Arakan Muslims from previous influxes dating back to the 1970s. Arakan province is separated from the rest of the country by a mountainous area and has been neglected in terms of education and development for years. There has been significant immigration from Myanmar to Bangladesh from the 1970s onwards, even before the events of June.
The ambassador stated that other than the registered number of refugees in the country, another half a million stateless Rohingyas who have kinship relations with the Bangladeshi border population have sought refuge in forest areas near the border in Bangladesh.
“We cannot take any more people from any country because we are one of the most densely populated countries in the world, having 160 million in a very small territory,” Rahman indicated. He also criticized large countries that are pressuring Bangladesh to accept more refugees.