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What follows is a fictionalized writing from the first person perspective of Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, on the topic of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. I do not claim to be objectively or even accurately representing her view on the matter. This is an experiment in creativity and in attempting to understand this crisis from her perspective.

To call the issue at hand a political issue, is to diminish the weight of the circumstance. How can we sit idly by while an entire population of people are suffering at the hands of those in power? How could our inaction be taken for anything but acquiescence to brutality and a disregard for the wellbeing of humanity?                               

Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina (Bangladesh Today)

It’s true, however, that our little country is not equipped to take in so many people. We were skeptical of opening the floodgates to begin with but the international pressure was too great. We are not a morally deprived society and to be passive and inactive in this troubling circumstance would be to indicate to the rest of the world that we are, in fact, morally deprived. 

But I had my skepticisms from the beginning of this crisis. Opening the door to over 1 million refugees would undoubtedly cause massive problems in our already struggling country. Our GDP per capita is less than $1,400. The open flow of humanity into Bangladesh could very well destroy us. Of course those pressuring us to open our doors don’t themselves have to feel the effects of such an action. They sit removed from it, feeling they possess the moral high ground and are justified in criticizing those they deem amoral. 

Now, in September 2018, we are reaping more than ever the consequences of this increasingly difficult circumstance. The Kutupalong refugee camp alone holds over 545,000 refugees.      

A Rohingya militant group has attacked Burmese military units and there is worry about the refugee camp being used as a base to conduct cross-border fighting. Furthermore, the camp is fertile ground for extremist recruitment. Organized crime networks have a tendency to exploit refugees and refugees also accentuate the problems of the trafficking of sex, drugs and labor.      

We’ve seen price increases for local goods and a transfer of low-paying jobs from our citizens to refugees.       

In some places, the Rohingya outnumber our own 2 to 1 and there is widespread concern about the improbability of assimilation.

Thousands of acres of forest have been clear cut to make room for camps, groundwater is being depleted, and air pollution has intensified from wood burning and exhaust from continually delivering supplies to the camps.

Our citizens are growing anxious and frustrated with the way their lives are being impacted.

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Kutupalong refugee camp

Housing over 545,000 Rohingya refugees

(Image: Rasmus Degnbol)

Yet, we can not turn these people away. I believe that the consequences of that decision would be greater than the consequences of our present course. What sort of people are we if we do not take a stand on something as egregious as ethnic cleansing?

We must do all we can to continue aiming for the repatriation of the Rohingya to Myanmar. Whether that means pressuring the Burmese government directly or appealing to the international community to pressure them into a settlement, we must continue on this course. 

The wounds are deep and in some cases, are deepening. But we do what we must. Our humanity binds us together as kin and therefore, we must, if even for a long while, share in the pain of our fellow humans.