It was the biggest refugee crisis the world has ever seen. About a million Rohingyas were driven out from Myanmar by its government, their villages burned. They were brutalised in every possible way – they were murdered, raped and mutilated.
As the influx began, Bangladesh was stunned by the enormity of it. A sea of displaced humanity streaming in, looking for a refuge. The world was yet to react to the crisis that was soon to engulf Bangladesh and catapult it into the biggest refugee crisis ever in the world.
It was then Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina showed her humanitarian leadership as she let those helpless people come in instead of ordering to close the border.
She made the watershed statement when she visited the Kutupalong Refugee Camp in Ukhiya and declared: "If my government can arrange food for over one hundred sixty million people of Bangladesh, we would also be able to feed one million people more. We have let the Rohingya in on humanitarian grounds and I ask the people of this country to help ease their suffering in whatever way they can."
It was that glorious hour that set Bangladesh's firm resolution on the Rohingyas. It was a statement that could put many rich nations to shame on what they did with their own share of refugees.
Just think about the scenes – US border agents on horsebacks with whips driving away helpless Haitian refugees, a truly mediaeval imagery, or that body of the dark-haired Syrian toddler AylanKurdi, wearing a bright-red T-shirt, washed up on the Turkish beach, lying face down.
While the rich nations wanted to live in their own cocoon of comfort, Prime Minister Hasina showed the human face of a statesman while dealing with the Rohingya refugees.
She took the matter to global forums where she repeatedly urged the world leadership to resolve the crisis for which the UK-based Channel 4 News in September 2017 first termed Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as the 'Mother of Humanity'.
Following her resolution, Bangladesh authorities have been running one of the most well-managed refugee camps in the world in Teknaf, providing them with all human necessities. Not only that, for a better life, the government has constructed modern living facilities for the Rohingyas in Bhasan Char.
She then took the matter to the UN at the 72ndSession of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2017 for a permanent solution to the protracted Rohingya crisis. She presented a 5-point proposal:
First: Myanmar must unconditionally stop the violence and the practice of ethnic cleansing in the Rakhine State immediately and forever;
Second: Secretary General of the United Nations should immediately send a Fact-Finding Mission to Myanmar;
Third: All civilians irrespective of religion and ethnicity must be protected in Myanmar. For that "safe zones" could be created inside Myanmar under UN supervision;
Fourth: Ensure sustainable return of all forcibly displaced Rohingyas in Bangladesh to their homes in Myanmar; and
Fifth: The recommendations of the Kofi Annan Commission Report must be implemented unconditionally as soon as possible.
Sheikh Hasina then followed up her call at the 74th UNGA where she lamented that it was indeed unfortunate that she had to raise the Rohingya issue at the UN again as the crisis remained unresolved.
As no concrete moves are visible on their repatriation, she once again raised the issue at the 76th UNGA and said the Rohingya crisis is in its fifth year now and yet not a single forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals could be repatriated to Myanmar.
"Despite the uncertainty created by the recent political developments in Myanmar, we expect enhanced focus and active support of the international community to find a durable solution to this crisis. Myanmar must create the conditions conducive for their return. We are ready to work with the international community on this compelling priority," she said.
The world might not be relentless on the repatriation of the 'world's most persecuted people', but they will remain in Sheikh Hasina's conscience as she knows by heart how it feels to be a refugee from one's own homeland. She has known it in 1971 when ten million Bangalis had fled to India and then on a personal level when she had to take shelter in Germany after the assassination of her father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.