As a Research Scholar in the Ronin Institute, my research focuses on the Rohingya Muslim minority of Burma, one of the world’s most persecuted and vulnerable refugees. My interest in these refugees from Burma (Myanmar) developed during my M.Phil. years at the University of Delhi where I was studying colonial labour migration, particularly the pace and pattern of the Ganjam labour migration (particularly the Odias and Telgus) to Burma (presently known as Myanmar). After examining a variety of archival sources and historical records, I came to the conclusion that human mobility played a crucial role in the dissemination of concepts about nationalism and national identity across Asia. Mobility, diaspora, and border concerns in South Asia and Southeast Asia are particularly intriguing to me.
Now my research concentrates on the Rohingya refugees, who are vulnerable and reside in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, and their impact on the local climate. The background for my research begins before the Rohingya genocide of 2017, when the Rohingya people were a stateless ethnic minority that primarily followed Islam and lived in Rakhine Province of Burma. Because of the genocide, hundreds of them fled to neighboring countries, with the majority of the Rohingya Muslim population now residing in Bangladesh. According to the interviews I conducted with local Bangladeshis, in 2017, the government of Bangladesh granted the Rohingya 2,000 acres of land on which they could live. The Rohingya, however, currently inhabit at least 6,000 acres, which is ruining the mountainous natural environment and causing the extinction of numerous species of wildlife. The effects of the Rohingya refugee influx include deforestation, severe water scarcity and pollution, loss, fragmentation, and destruction of wildlife habitats, improper management of solid and human waste, inadequate drainage systems, air pollution, and surface water pollution. If the situation is not brought under control, it could spark social instability between Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims
The effects of the Rohingya refugee influx include deforestation, severe water scarcity and pollution, loss, fragmentation, and destruction of wildlife habitats, improper management of solid and human waste, inadequate drainage systems, air pollution, and surface water pollution. If the situation is not brought under control, it could spark social instability between Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims
One local climate activist that I interviewed claims that even if the refugee problem is solved, we will never get back the thousands acres of land, the tens of thousands of trees, and the hundred animal species that have been lost. Bangladesh is in the forefront of global climate change because of its position as the world’s longest river delta and the Bay of Bengal’s northernmost tip. Saltwater is introduced to coastal agricultural areas because one-fourth of Bangladesh is less than seven feet above sea level. Because of the melting glaciers in the Himalayas, waterways in the delta are swollen and flooded. Storm surges and powerful cyclones also have occurred. Coastal erosion also threatens Bangladesh’s agricultural economy. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that by 2050, Bangladesh’s food output would decrease by 30%, adding to the strain on the country’s social services already caused by the massive influx of Rohingya refugees. Land degradation poses serious dangers. The risk of landslides is increased because cutting down trees depletes the soil of vital nutrients and further compromises the already fragile structure of the soft soil. Extreme population growth hastens the destruction of land.
Emma Fearon, whose writing appears at the Human Rights pulse, recently remarked that “vulnerable communities, such as the Rohingya, will become increasingly more endangered and risk becoming further marginalized as climate change continues to alter existing environments”.
Climate change potentially gives rise to violence trafficking and forced migration. In my chapter “Voiceless Rohingya: From Refugees to Modern Slaves”, in the edited book on Human trafficking: Global History and Perspective, I have argued that women and young girls are particularly at risk of trafficking into the sex trade, which is associated with gender-based violence. As women and children represent more than half of the Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, they are at greater risk of many forms of harassment and discrimination. When refugees in other nations are denied access to opportunities, they are forced to resort to trafficking in order to provide for their families. Their journey to find refuge and subsistence, which they found in neither their own country nor the host countries, ultimately led to exploitation, manipulation, and starvation.
What we have learned from the climate activist interviews is that the effects of the refugees on the natural ecosystem has the potential to escalate tensions between the displaced people and the native Bangladeshi population. As a result, the Rohingya’s security is compromised. This emergency needs immediate attention and long-term solutions for the Rohingya people. One goal of my research is to offer information that can advise the international community to make concerted strategic efforts towards resolving tensions and improving human rights.
 Naik Sagarika. (2021). Voiceless Rohingyas: From Refugees to Modern Slaves, In Elisha Dung edited collection Human Trafficking: Global History and Perspective . https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781793648792/Human-Trafficking-Global-History-and-Perspectives.
Sagarika is a Ronin Research Scholar and previously worked as a research assistant at Princeton University. Her research focuses on different issues related to migration, citizenship and borderland disputes, both contemporary and during the 20th century, in South Asian and Southeast Asian regions.
This post is a perspective of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Ronin Institute.