Like many others, I was appalled by our decision to refuse the Burmese refugees to seek shelter in our land. But I just did not feel like writing on this issue, as hardly any good comes out of it at least that is what my more knowledgeable friends remind me often. Today’s issue of The Asian Age in London in a half column report highlighted the Bangladesh refusal to the refugees under a bigger report on the Lady of Burma on a global tour now.
Bangladesh image has suffered hugely through the Economist reports/leaders recently. There has not been any official rejoinder, at least I did not see one, excepting the local media carrying somewhat ludicrous criticism of the magazine itself and not touching on any of the specific points of negative nature. The image has gone a few shades darker with many incidents involving the judiciary the parliament and as usual , the establishment aka administration. We have seen the Sahara circus, Saudi Prince drama and the current foreign policy fiasco in dealing with the Burmese refugees afloat nearabout our waterways , even before the seal of our great ( ?) victory over Burma in our sea has been delivered.
Be that as it may, to turn away crying children, women and the old so visibly in distress, fleeing from persecution by a cruel regime in our neighbouring country, is something we should have found, and should always find, utterly abhorrent, given the trauma we have had not too long ago. Secondly, this is a humanitarian imperative, and considering the few thousands involved, we are rich enough to share, when already we have a few lakhs in our own 16 crores. And while refusing the tearful, hungry and desperate boat people to say that some of their people are criminals could not have been more heartless.
We need to remember that the the Lady from Burma , now released from long incarceration, elected by adulation and expected to lead, is on a global tour, albeit as a role model that the West is suddenly and vigorously promoting. Perhaps rightly so for democracy to take roots as against the past decades of total authoritarian rule. And, of course, there is a minor factor of China’s exponential presence in the South Asia region and the seas in the neighbourhood stretch. In this emerging scenario, Burma has a crucial and strategic importance of both the parties. And India is seeking to join in a big way, well through corridors/transit rights/ access courtesy Bangladesh. Hence the global media and the western political and strategic interests and UN and other multilateral agencies including those concerned with human rights issues are all focussed on and powered into our region. Bangladesh , not particularly a favourite country these days, with Yunusgate and a few other irritants, is not perhaps in the best of profile. And quite frankly, the narrow and non-humanitarian stand of Bangladesh reflects an extremely incompetent and ill-conceived foreign policy construct. Those who shaped such an official position have stabbed the image of the country and its Prime Minister in the back.
Even if some damage control is done now and these vulnerable souls, in fact these visible victims of vicious violence, are admitted to our safe shores, it is the UN and others who will win a feather in their cap.
Syed Muhammad Hussain
16 June, 2012