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RRRC's Mizanur Rahman's Narrow View on Refugee Integration
A Call for Humanity and Responsibility
A message notification on my WhatsApp caught my attention. It was from an incensed Rohingya youth who had come across THIS particular interview in The Business Standard. Published today. The content was so startling that he felt compelled to share it with me. I, in turn, passed it along to a Burmese dissident, who was equally taken aback. The interview features Mizanur Rahman, the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, elucidating his perspectives on the integration of Rohingya refugees.
Honestly, I'm at a loss for where to begin my critique. And maybe I shouldn't even attempt to. However, I did pen a response to the post. In the event that The Business Standard chooses not to publish it, here is my comment for your reference. But first - the section that prompted my commentary
With a small country with 170 million people, a lack of resources and a demographic dividend, it is difficult to integrate a large number of refugees. Examples of successful integration include Turkey and Jordan working with Syrian refugees, who have a significant number of medical, engineering, and IT professionals.
Can you cite an example [from] the Rohingya community of one physician or engineer? They are agriculture labourers and fishermen. Do we need more?
Working on resettlement is going on but how many people will be resettled in a third country? It might be 5,000 or 10,000 at best. But every day 100 new children are born in the camps. So the only option we have is repatriation.
Mohammad Mizanur Rahman, RRRC
Rahman's statement contains several issues that demand criticism from various angles, including the perspective of human rights, the assumptions made, and the overlooking of Bangladesh's own responsibility in the matter. He holds a utilitarian view of refugees, suggesting that their worth and potential to integrate are tied to their professions or skills. This disregards basic human rights principles, which dictate that every human, regardless of profession or skill level, has the right to seek refuge and should be treated with dignity.
Most problematically, Rahman places blame on the refugees for a lack of education without acknowledging Bangladesh's responsibility to provide education for them. While Bangladesh is a developing country with its own challenges, if it accepts refugees, it also has to consider how to provide for their basic needs, including education, to ensure they can contribute to society. It has steadfastly not done so, and instead has kettled them behind barbed wire. It seems Rahman has forgotten that Bangladesh's strategy is systematically designed to dismantle educational opportunities for the Rohingya refugees
Mr. Rahman's question, "Can you cite an example [from] the Rohingya community of one physician or engineer?" followed by his dismissive generalisation of the Rohingya as merely "agriculture labourers and fishermen," is nothing short of an affront. It's a deeply derogatory remark that not only belittles the Rohingya community but also dismisses the immense human potential that is not defined merely by current occupation or circumstances. His concluding question, "Do we need more?" is strikingly disrespectful and displays an alarming disregard for basic human dignity. This dismissive attitude should be categorically rejected.
Is it necessary to remind Mr. Rahman that these "100 new children born in the camps" every day aren't stamped at birth as fishermen or agriculturalists? How audaciously ignorant to pigeonhole the boundless potential of these children, who, given the appropriate resources and opportunities, could just as easily become the next generation of physicians, engineers, or luminaries in any field they set their hearts on. It's a matter of nurturing potential, not limiting it. Tragically, it seems the job of the RRRC has been more about limiting potential than nurturing it.
Rahman's basic argument also oversimplifies the integration process. Successful integration involves more than just possessing professional skills. He should know this from the Turkish or Jordanian examples he quotes, let alone examples from Europe. A focus solely on economic benefits is narrow and devoid of humanity.
Finally, Rahman's politicised answers can damage people's perception of the Bangladesh civil service and undermine its credibility. All civil servants should respect the principles of human rights, fairness, and equity in their duties. Statements that seem to devalue or discriminate against certain groups of people, as Rahman does, are inappropriate, to say the least.