Within two months first group of Rohingya returned home

(BNP Communications)  — In 1978, just after seven years of our great war of independence, the country’s only freedom fighter president, Ziaur Rahman Bir Uttam had been working very hard to build the nation’s economy, infrastructure and improve the socio-political conditions and enhance the professionalism of the civil-military bureaucracy.  In the midst of this, the Burmese junta started operation Dragon King aimed to cleanse Rohingya from their motherland Arakan. To escape from the brutality of the junta, around two hundred thousand Rohingya fled to Bangladesh territory adjacent to Burma.

At that time Bichitra, a very popular Bangla weekly, published a cover story under the heading ‘Manush aitache… naf nodeer baner lahan…’ (People are coming like the flood of the Naf River)

An enormous number of Rohingya reached Bangladesh border area on foot, by boat, sampan, makeshift banana vessels through the impenetrable and dangerous hills, bushes, rivers, rivulets, canals and muddy fields of crops in the rainy season, and in spite of the threat of snake bites and animal attacks while thunderstorm and flash floods accompanied them.

Only some years back Bangladeshis suffered in the same way in millions in 1971’s war of independence when the Pakistani occupation force launched brutal attacks against the people of Bangladesh. That experience was vivid and fresh in the memory of Bangladeshis and their leaders.

President Zia decided to order to open the border for the Rohingya. The President himself monitored every detail of the administration’s plan and its execution. He sent senior government officials to oversee the activities related to sheltering the Rohingya people. Fenced makeshift refugee camps were built for all, almost overnight, without hampering the local people and the environment. Food, drinking water, clothes, medicines were supplied by the government. Toilets were built for the refugees.

President Zia asked the cabinet secretary to lead the work at the national level and foreign minister Professor Shamsul Haq was given the task of contacting world leaders.

President Zia personally contacted the UN and powerful nations to address the crisis.

Because of the President’s proactive and astute diplomacy, the Rangoon government had to sign a treaty to take back all of the Rohingya refugees. Within two months of the Rohingya influx into Bangladesh, in July 1978, the first group of Rohingya returned to their homeland. In less than a year all of them returned home.

In an extremely rare gesture, the secretive leader of traditionally isolationist Burma, Ne Win, visited Bangladesh twice, first in 1979 and again in 1980.

This was unprecedented in world history that within merely two months hundreds of thousands refugees were able to start to go back to their homeland.