The Rohingya crisis has been ranked third on a list of “10 conflicts to watch in 2018” by International Crisis Group, after North Korea and the rivalry involving the United States, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The Brussels-based think tank said the exodus of more than 655,000 Muslims from northern Rakhine State to Bangladesh since late August has created significant risks for both countries.
The focus on addressing the situation was “rightly on the right of refugees to return in a voluntary, safe and, dignified manner”, ICG said in the report, released on January 2.
“In reality, however, and notwithstanding a late-November Bangladesh/Myanmar repatriation agreement, the refugees will not return unless Myanmar restores security for all communities, grants the Rohingya freedom of movement as well as access to services and other rights, and allows humanitarian and refugee agencies unfettered access,” it said.
The report said the risks facing Myanmar included the possibility that the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which carried out the late August attacks in northern Rakhine that triggered a massive military response, could regroup.
There was also the risk of ARSA or transnational groups exploiting the Rohingya cause or recruiting among the displaced Rohingya in Bangladesh to launch cross-border attacks. Such a development would escalate both Muslim-Buddhist tension in Rakhine and friction between Myanmar and Bangladesh, ICG said.
Any attack outside Rakhine could provoke broader Buddhist-Muslim tension and violence throughout Myanmar, it added.
“Acknowledging the crisis, implementing recommendations of the Kofi Annan-led Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, and disavowing divisive narratives would put the Myanmar government – and its people – on a better path,” ICG said.
It said that although Bangladesh was publicly trying to persuade Myanmar to take the refugees back, “privately it acknowledges the hopelessness of that endeavor”.
Bangladesh had neither defined policies nor taken operational decisions for the medium- to long-term management of more than a million Rohingya refugees in camps near its southeastern border with Myanmar, the think tank said.
“International funding for an under-resourced emergency operation will run out in February. All this – indeed, the very presence of a large population of stateless refugees – creates enormous dangers for Bangladesh,” the ICG said.
“Conflict between refugees and a host community that is heavily outnumbered in parts of the southeast and faces rising prices and falling wages is an immediate risk,” it said.
The presence of the refugees could also be used to stoke communal conflict or aggravate political divisions ahead of elections expected late this year.
Ranked on the list after “The Rohingya crisis: Myanmar and Bangladesh”, were Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, the Sahel, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ukraine and Venezuela.