By Dr Abdullah Yusuf

THE horrifying situation in Afghanistan should act as a reminder of other grave humanitarian crises engulfing the world. I have spent the past few years researching the impact of other conflicts, many of which have been all but been forgotten by the international community.

It is now four years since the Myanmar military embarked upon a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing that forcibly displaced around a million Rohingya Muslims into Bangladeshi refugee camps. The persecution of the Rohingya is not new, but the scale and magnitude of the displacement since August 2017, is unprecedented. More than 700,000 refugees fled following actions internationally described as genocidal.

The UNHCR defined a “protracted refugee situation” as one where 25,000 or more refugees had been in existence for five or more years with no immediate prospect of a durable solution. The current Rohingya plight is moving inexorably towards protracted status.

Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest was celebrated as Myanmar’s Mandela moment but her rise to power made little or no meaningful impact. Seemingly powerless to curb the military’s excesses, she even appeared at the Hague in 2019 to defend her government against accusations of genocide.

Bangladesh has pushed hard for repatriation. Myanmar has resisted, ostensibly for logistical reasons. Lockdown has halted any further progress. Most Rohingya who fled in earlier displacements returned to Myanmar, but its internal politics took a significant turn earlier this year when the military seized control of the country, declaring a year-long state of emergency.

The coup d’état returned the country to full military rule. Aung San Suu Kyi’s dizzying turn on the world stage took her from democracy icon to leader of an elected government and then, astonishingly, defender of the slaughter of Rohingya Muslims. She is now back in a familiar place – under house arrest and facing criminal charges.

The military government has officially annulled the results of elections held last year. General Min Aung Hlaing declared himself prime minister and announced that he will lead the country for at least two years.

In the days following the coup, General Min Aung Hlaing promised to protect the Rohingya. This promise, coming from the originators of their persecution, is unlikely to convince the Rohingya to accept repatriation, especially as the junta has killed 800 anti-coup protestors. As the situation in Myanmar worsens, human rights campaigner Matthew Smith noted that any shred of hope for a safe, voluntary, and dignified return is completely gone.

It seems inevitable that the Rohingya’s plight will become a protracted refugee crisis. Now living in refugee camps in cramped conditions, with limited freedom of movement, access to education or health service, or any form of agency, the Rohingya are entirely dependent on the goodwill of their host nation and the will of the international community. Though no longer living in constant fear of violent ethnic cleansing, their prospects for the future remain grim and seemingly intractable.

Dr Abdullah Yusuf is Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, University of Dundee