There are ample reasons for Bangladesh authorities to treat the Rohingya diaspora communities as ‘change partners’ and ‘change agents’ as their voices gain much greater currency in international circles
The second round of relocation of the Rohingyas to Bhashanchar took place on November 29, 2021. Abul Kalam, a Rohingya photographer, was jailed for shooting photos of the Bhashanchar-bound Rohingya caravan. Human rights activists inside and outside Bangladesh lamented that 'unprecedented' action. They also condemned the violation of the law for not producing Kalam before the court within 24-hours of his apprehension.
As usual, the narrative of the law enforcement agency differed. According to the law enforcers' account, Kalam was arrested as an unnamed accused against an earlier charge. However, most national-international observers cast doubt on that narrative. Thirty-three representatives from different walks of international human rights organisations, journalism, academia, and film, photography, and creative arts field issued a statement demanding Kalam's immediate release. The Rohingya diaspora communities also globally expressed deepest concerns and resentment against that action, which eventually made a discernible international buzz. Upon their calls, human rights activists instantly created the 'Free Kalam' Twitter hashtag. The online cause did receive thousands of shares online.
It is indeed a piece of good news that Kalam received bail within a short period. However, the incident may serve as food for thought for Bangladesh authority about setting a clear path to handle sensitive actions. The incident can also serve as a starting point for effective communication between the Rohingya diaspora communities and diplomatic missions of Bangladesh abroad.
There are reasons to bring the Kalam incident in the Rohingya diaspora discussion. First, Rohingya diaspora communities, irrespective of their sizes, have somewhat noticeable footprints in most overseas countries with immigration programmes. They began settling overseas right after the Second World War. There are sizable Rohingya diaspora communities in some cities in Canada, the USA, and greater European countries.
Myanmar's Rohingya genocide brought the Rohingya diaspora communities to the forefront in their sheltering countries. They began to be noticed; their voices started to be heard. A global-scale sympathy began to pour on them to a great extent. This has lent them the leverage to voice for the Rohingya victims aloud. Among the diaspora communities, Rohingyas have high-skilled professional members including medical practitioners, engineers, lawyers, professors, and business people. In the wake of the escalated state violence against the Rohingyas since 1978, the diaspora members resorted to activism and advocacy. They met politicians, wrote pledges, sat for media interviews, and wrote here and there about the Rohingya plight. Since the most recent horrific genocidal episode of 2017, they have been getting more exposure to the global communities as a truly dependable voice for the Rohingyas.
Everything of the Rohingya Diasporas is not rosy, for sure. They do have effective and active organisations side-by-side weaker and fragmented fraternities. Diaspora members do have disagreements and conflicts of ideas and strategies. They also have grouping-subgroupings, and clashes of interests and power. These limitations indeed weaken their activist position. Yet, the global communities are generously opening up spaces to make them talk about the plights of their fellow people in the land of their birth and culture and heritage. They are gifted with much easier access to the parliaments, senates' standing committees, and international human rights forums and peace activists' circles. The humanities and social science faculties of renowned universities are inviting them to share their views on the ongoing developments and updates of the Rohingya crisis.
Given these realities, Bangladesh could have easily collaborated and networked with the Rohingya diasporas to progress the greatest cause—Rohingya crisis mitigation. When both parties could remain on the same page, they are pitifully pursuing different paths to Rohingya crisis management. As we have been hearing Rohingya voices on different platforms over years, it is vividly evident that the Rohingya diaspora communities perceive Bangladesh's foreign mission as 'extra-elitist' and 'exclusionary' in nature. We lack credible evidence to speak with certainty that the Bangladesh foreign missions ever took serious efforts to initiate in-depth dialogues to seek a common platform towards influencing international opinions.
Diaspora communities nowadays are rather critical of most initiatives of Bangladesh. Importantly, their scope of criticism seems to widen every day. They are critical of Bangladesh's unilateral decisions to relocate the Rohingyas to Bahshanchar with little or no consultation with the Rohingyas at all. Bangladesh refutes and denies all of these wholesale allegations. Maybe Bangladesh is doing her level best in Rohingya crisis management. Then the question that arises is—where does the misunderstanding lie? The misunderstanding does reflect a deep crisis of miscommunication between both entities.
The miscommunication between Bangladesh's Rohingya management authorities and the Rohingya diaspora communities is ever-widening with every new miscalculated mistake like one Kalam's jailing. This void needs to be bridged. We need to memorise the time of the 2017 exodus. Since then to the present time, the members of the diaspora communities have been wholeheartedly expressing their gratitude to Bangladesh for her most venerable role-playing by sheltering the persecuted Rohingyas. They acknowledged with grand praise and applause Bangladesh's great move in many forums including the United Nations.
Global communities also tend to hear their voice more than the politically correct routine statements of foreign missions. There are ample reasons to treat the Rohingya diaspora communities as 'change partners' and 'change agents' as their voices gain much greater currency in international circles. It is expected that the Bangladesh foreign missions consider establishing a communication bridge to progress the Rohingya causes collaboratively.
Dr Helal Mohiuddin, professor, North South University.
Dr Kawser Ahmed, executive director, Conflict and Resilience Research Institute.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.