If the past is any indication, Rohingya repatriation that faced the first hiccup Thursday, August 22, is going to be an extended affair – by a UN optimistic estimate of five years and a low-case scenario of 10 years at the rate of 300 Rohingyas going back every day as Myanmar has promised.
After signing of the repatriation deal between Bangladesh and Myanmar in November 2017, Myanmar announced the number of people it can take back every day.
Based on this announcement, the UNDP estimated in November last year the time required for repatriation taking into view that the Rohingya population will remain static.
However, if their population increases by 3 percent a year, the full repatriation would take two to five years more.
And history tells a grim story as Rohingyas have been fleeing to Bangladesh since 1978.
When the first wave of exodus happened in 1978, it took less than a month since signing a deal between Bangladesh and Myanmar to kick off repatriation.
Second time in 1992, it took five months to begin sending back the refugees.
But this time around, repatriation did not begin in two years after signing a deal. And it still remains uncertain when it will start as moves for repatriation failed twice.
There are more things to be worried about.
Four decades ago, almost all Rohingyas who entered Bangladesh fleeing violence in Myanmar were sent back to their homes in only 16 months.
But 15 years down the line things got complicated. It took more than 12 years to send back the 2.36 lakh Rohingyas who entered Bangladesh in 1991-92.
That makes one wonder if it takes so long to send back a little over two lakh people, how much time would be required to send back around 9 lakh.
It will take at least 10 years for full repatriation, assuming an unchanged refugee population, said the UNDP study released in November last year.
The UNDP says if 600 Rohingyas are repatriated every day, it will take five years to complete the process.
And two years ago, Bangladesh alone received more refugees in just first three weeks of the Rohingya influx than all of Europe received in 2016 during the Syrian crisis.
More than three lakh Rohingyas entered Bangladesh within the short span of time since August 25, 2017 as the country opened its borders for them on humanitarian grounds.
Their number crossed 7 lakh in next months amid growing global outcry and condemnation against Myanmar.
The exodus sparked a messy and chaotic situation in Teknaf and Ukhiya – two upazilas of Cox’s Bazar – as Rohingyas kept crossing the border in large number fleeing violence in their homeland in Myanmar.
The situation in camps improved drastically following relentless efforts by the government and dozens of national and internal organisations. Everything now looks disciplined and well managed, demonstrating Bangladesh’s sincerity to honour humanity at a huge cost of environment in Cox’s Bazar.
The UNDP study says the annual cost of food, shelter, education and other basic needs for Rohingyas will be a minimum of $3.2 billion a year if the repatriation is completed in the next five years.
In that case, the UNDP says, sustaining donor interest will appear as another major challenge as within the first year of the crisis, the donor response in terms of financial assistance has been slow.
If so, Bangladesh will have to bear the brunt more as it experienced in the past on account of the Rohingyas.