The current Rohingya population taking refuge in Bangladesh amounts to over 1 million, with the majority comprising women and children. The plight of these people is now well documented both locally and internationally – their refugee status compounded by their statelessness renders them one of the most vulnerable groups deprived of basic human rights in the world today. Unrecognized as citizens in Myanmar and repeatedly subjected to violence and conflict, they first began their exodus across the border into Bangladesh (and to other countries in the region) in the 70s, then in the 90s and most recently over the past three years. Before August 2017, there were about 300,000 Rohingyas residing in camps in Cox’s Bazar in southern Bangladesh. However, from 25th August 2017 onwards, following a new cycle of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, there began a mass exodus into Bangladesh which was unprecedented by any other seen earlier, exceeding 650,000 as per official estimates. Bangladesh is now considered to be hosting one of the fastest growing refugee crises in the world.
The Government of Bangladesh, together with national and international partners, has pro‐actively responded to this crisis with a massive humanitarian response, allocating 2,000 acres of land and coordinating and providing critical assistance such as food, nutrition, shelter, water, health & hygiene, and psycho‐social and basic education services to the camps, settlements and host communities. But the needs and gaps continue to rise alarmingly. As of January 2018, the UN coordinated inter‐agency response plan estimates the humanitarian need for 1.2 million people to be USD 434 million, of which 70 percent has been funded so far.
The challenges are multi‐faceted and go beyond sheer humanitarian need or life‐saving interventions. There are increasing geo‐political tensions, pressures on the domestic economy, growing concerns regarding health, environment and security, diplomatic considerations, and the complexity of repatriation. It is also critical that the focus remains unwaveringly on the preservation of rights and protection of the Rohingya population. It is time to intensify policy advocacy in terms of international human rights law and legal frameworks, to consider the significant economic cost of the crisis, and to deconstruct and highlight critical humanitarian, political, gender and security issues.
An initial national level discussion called ‘Protection and Durable Solution by Global Leaders for Rohingya Refugees’ was organized in November 2017. The International Conference on April 2‐3, will aim to take this process further, in the interest of preventing further violence and promoting sustainable peace and reconciliation for those affected. Technical sessions will cover humanitarian, social, political, legal and economic issues, gender dimensions, protection and rights, and security considerations. Concrete steps will be discussed to address the issues of ethnic cleansing/genocide in Myanmar, crimes against humanity, and to leverage international legal instruments to bring justice to the victims. Discussions will take into account recent international recommendations and guidelines such as the Final Report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State (August 2017), chaired by Kofi Annan, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s five-point proposal at the United Nations General Assembly (October 2017), China’s proposed three-step solution (October 2017), the Permanent People’s Tribunal’s findings and recommendations in Malaysia (September 2017), the European Parliament Resolution of 14 December, etc. Adding momentum to the ongoing efforts of the Bangladeshi Government and the international community to address the crisis, the conference will culminate in a declaration outlining measures for finding sustainable solutions.
The sessions will be organized around the following themes:
Participants will include government representatives from Bangladesh and other countries, representatives from national and international organizations, including NGOs, CSOs, CBOs, activists and community leaders, national and international academics and experts, and media.
The conference will be a two-day event, held from 9 to 17 hours daily on Monday and Tuesday, April 2-3, 2018. The venue is Senate Hall, Senate Bhaban, University of Dhaka, Dhaka.
Concurrently a photography exhibition will be held at the venue, providing a visual narrative of the crisis.
Following confirmation of attendance, AAB would be able to provide support for visa procedures. Local hospitality will also be provided to all participants during the conference.
The conference is envisaged to bring together diverse and important voices to deepen the discussion on protection and rights for Rohingyas and to raise greater awareness both nationally and internationally with specific recommended measures. The event will end with the Dhaka Declaration, co-signed by participants. A publication of micro-narratives and an anthology of the papers presented at the conference, is also planned.