Saudi Arabia has threatened Bangladesh it will deport Bangladeshi workers from the Kingdom if Dhaka does not issue Bangladeshi passports to 54,000 Rohingyas living there.
In a never before diplomatic occurrence the increasingly despostic Middle Eastern country communicated the threat via junior levels to the Bangladeshi government.
Bangladesh for its part stated unequivocally that it will not issue Bangladeshi passport or travel documents to individuals who are not citizens of the country.
This is a particularly sensitive matter for Bangladesh because Saudi Arabia hosts the largest number of expatriate Bangladeshis and is also the largest source of remittance for Bangladesh.
The Bangladesh government has already formed a committee headed by a foreign secretary to investigate the matter.
The Foreign Ministers of Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia are to discuss several matters by phone this Sunday. However it could not be confirmed if the Rohingya issue will come up during the course of the discussion.
Saudi Arabia sheltered persecuted Rohingya’s from Myanmar in the 1980s and 1990s after many were forced to flee the South East Asian nation.
Initially the Saudi authorities wanted Bangladesh to take 462 Rohingya’s who were languishing in jail. Upon investigation it was found that only a small number of the Rohingya’s used Bangladeshi passports to enter Saudi Arabia.
Bangladesh government is also investigating how Burmese nationals were able to acquire Bangladeshi passports. It is thought that unscrupulous staffers at the Department of Immigration & Passports (DIP) provided the Burmese people with original Bangladeshi passports. Some used those passports to enter Saudi Arabia. This has led the Saudi authorities to attempt a large scale push in of Rohingya’s in to Bangladesh through pressure.
Saudi Arabia previously informed the matter of sending Rohingya’s to Bangladesh in 2007, 2009 and in 2016. At that time the Saudi’s proposed sending 42,000 Rohingya’s to Bangladesh.
Most of the Rohingya community in Saudi Arabia live near Mecca, the holiest site of the Muslim world.
This highly sensitive matter has caused a strain in the relations between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia. The two Muslim-majority nations have become close in trade and defence.
Saudi Arabia reopened its labour market to Bangladeshi workers in 2015 after a hiatus of seven years. There are 2.2 million Bangladeshis living in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia presently.
Bangladesh lent its support to Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen. It has also backed the Saudi-led military alliance against the Islamic State (IS) terrorist organisation.
The Bangladesh government is unlikely to compromise in this matter because it would strengthen and encourage Myanmar to expel the remaining Rohingya’s in the country to Bangladesh.
The Rohingya issue is set to become a major international issue if it goes unchecked.
Saudi Arabia’s strong-arming tactics may backfire because Bangladesh is the third largest Muslim majority country in the world. Opponents of Saudi Arabia may also take this opportunity to undermine the oil-rich Arab nation position.
This comes as the international community expects Saudi Arabia to shortly recognise Israel. Some smaller Arab states have already normalised relations with Israel goaded by the US and Saud governments.
Bangladesh does not see any alternative but to address the root cause of the Rohingya crisis by holding Myanmar accountable. Rohingya’s will have to return to their own country (Myanmar) in order to permanently resolve the crisis.