Why does Bangladesh keep on sheltering Myanmar’s army and BGPs?

On May 4–5, 128 members of Myanmar’s Border Guard Police (BGP) took shelter in Bangladesh through the Teknaf border in Cox’s Bazar.
Why does Bangladesh keep on sheltering Myanmar’s army and BGPs?

Nur-Mohammad Sheikh


On May 4–5, 128 members of Myanmar’s Border Guard Police (BGP) took shelter in Bangladesh through the Teknaf border in Cox’s Bazar. This is not the first time; on April 25, Bangladesh repatriated 288 BGP and army personnel who had taken refuge in Bangladesh. Earlier this year, 330 Myanmar nationals, including BGP members, military personnel, customs officials, and other officials, had taken shelter in Bangladesh. They were sent back on February 15.

These raise the question of why BGP and Myanmar army troops seek refuge in Bangladesh. The answer, however, lies in the present situation in Myanmar. The military is losing a string of military battles in the wake of “Operation 1027.” The offensive in northern Shan State has yielded remarkable military and political achievements, which were cemented by a ceasefire struck in January. Since then, Rakhine State has come under more attention in the conflict. Should the junta’s defeats in northern Shan State be deemed its gravest blow since the coup of 2021, the way it fared against the Arakan Army (AA) in the Rakhine front may have a significant impact on the regime’s ability to survive. The same military that vowed to exterminate the AA from Rakhine State in 2018, 2019, and 2020 is now on the verge of losing control of almost the whole Rakhine.

As of April, AA troops had seized control of 10 towns in Rakhine, including Rathedaung, Taungpyoletwe, Paletwa, Pauktaw, Minbya, Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U, Myebon, Ponnagyun, and Ramree, from the military. The AA now controls more than 187 junta outposts and bases, including 16 major command centers. At least seven senior military commanders were assassinated, and six others were kidnapped. Following heavy onslaughts by the AA, the army and BGP members were forced to retreat to Bangladesh in search of safety. 

Why Bangladesh continues to provide them with refuge is the topic at hand. Bangladesh’s foreign policy, which is based on ‘friendship to all and malice towards none,’ holds the key to the answer. Bangladesh does not meddle in Myanmar’s domestic affairs and views Myanmar as a friend like other nations. As there is a state-to-state relationship and the Myanmar military has state authority, Bangladesh provides shelter to Myanmar nationals.

Critics counter that Bangladesh is hardly still regarded as Myanmar’s buddy. Numerous problems exist. Let us start with the Rohingya situation. The director of the UN agency for human rights described the Myanmar military’s ruthless assault on the Rohingya communities as ‘acts of horrific barbarity’, ‘possible acts of genocide,’ and ‘a textbook example of ethnic cleansing’ in 2017.  In order to escape their oppressive situation, more than a million Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh.

Stepping into the 7th year, Myanmar hasn’t taken back even a single Rohingya. Bangladesh seems solely to be carrying the burden of this huge refugee. The country is expending US $ 1.22 billion every year for the Rohingyas from its own limited resources. Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar is now hosting the largest refugee camp in the world, with one of the largest humanitarian operations in terms of scale and dimensions.

Additionally, the nation has never received a sizable amount of funding for Rohingya refugees. Instead, the amount of support has decreased with time. While donors only contributed 60% of the required cash in 2020, down from approximately 72% to 75% two years earlier, Bangladesh received roughly 51.4% in 2023 and around 49% in 2022.

Bangladesh, providing a unique example of humanity, took care of everyone. By accepting up to a million Rohingya refugees, a lower-middle-class country showed the deepest empathy and comprehension for human misery. To pay for the expenses and impacts on its economy, society, and environment, the nation is compelled to use a sizable percentage of its limited resources.

Second, most of the Rohingyas are sheltered at Cox’s Bazar, which provides a strategic route for smuggling. Bangladesh has to deal with the threat that the bordering Rohingya camps can be turned into breeding grounds for criminals, along with a growing concern over the recruitment of refugees by extremist networks, which could fuel militancy not only in Bangladesh but also across the whole Indo-Pacific region.

Third, Bangladesh is dealing with threats to the foreign labour market, remittances, and relations. Many unregistered Myanmar nationals went to other countries with the host country’s fake passports or identity cards and were involved in different crimes that tarnished the image of the host country.

In the middle of all of this, Bangladesh continues to support people seeking safety in Myanmar, providing a unique example of human kindness and compassion. But what does Myanmar do, in contrast? An inhumane, unacceptable, and unfriendly example of this behaviour is seen when the Myanmar navy fires rounds at Bangladeshi fishermen; artillery and bullets land on Bangladeshi soil, killing and injuring individuals.

Myanmar needs to exercise caution when interacting with Bangladesh and acknowledge the price of friendship. Myanmar should repatriate all Rohingyas to their homeland in the same manner that its authorities worked with Bangladesh to facilitate the repatriation of 173 Bangladeshi nationals from Myanmar and more than 600 members of the BGP and Myanmar army from Bangladesh.

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