Bangladesh has rebuffed Turkey’s repeated requests to set up a large camp in its territory for refugees over concerns that the Islamist government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan may exploit the refugee issue to aid and abet the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) group, Nordic Monitor has learned.
On the sidelines of the 74th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Bangladesh convened a high-level meeting on the Rohingya humanitarian crisis on September 24, attended by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. Despite the fact that Çavuşoğlu reiterated Turkey’s proposal to establish new shelters on allocated land in Cox’s Bazar, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina implicitly denied Turkey’s plan and revealed her country’s four-point strategy on Rohingya.
Hasina’s proposal includes a demand to return the refugees to Myanmar, an end to “state propaganda” that labels the ethnic group as “Bengalis,” full implementation of the recommendations made by the Kofi Annan Commission and creating a safe zone for Rohingya people. In her speech Hasina urged the international community to find a permanent solution to the ongoing Rohingya crisis as she stressed the need to repatriate the forcibly displaced people to their homeland of Myanmar. Furthermore, Hasina underlined that “the root of the Rohingya problem lies in Myanmar, and the solution has to be found in Myanmar,” adding, “While humanitarian assistance and other support for the Rohingyas address their immediate needs, it is important to achieve a long-term solution in Myanmar to the protracted Rohingya crisis.”
According to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu asked Prime Minister Hasina once again to provide enough land to build camps for Rohingya refugees in her country. However, the agency did not share any details with regards to the prime minister’s response to Turkey’s request, which has been repeatedly conveyed since 2017.
In the meeting Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad also called on the international community to urgently resolve the Rohingya crisis and defined the Myanmar violence as genocide.
According to Human Rights Watch, Bangladesh has been hosting 1.1 million forcibly deported Rohingya refugees, among whom 750,000 entered the country following a crackdown by the Myanmar army in August 2017. The UN described the atrocities perpetrated on the Rohingyas as “ethnic cleansing.” The Myanmar government refused to allow independent investigators access to Rakhine State and punished local journalists for reporting on military abuses.
Erdoğan always had in mind a sort of leadership of the Sunni Muslim world and wants to be active in South Asia with the help of the Rohingya crisis. Today he is fairly isolated and is trying to take every opportunity to change his image into a positive one and to appear to be internationally respected. But the UNGA meeting revealed how Turkey’s support for radical groups and political Islamist parties abroad undermines even its humanitarian policy.
In 2017 the Turkish Red Crescent launched a community center in Cox’s Bazar and announced its intent to build shelters for Rohingya refugees in the region. However, it failed to implement its plan due to the deteriorating diplomatic and political relations between the two countries. Turkish-Bangladeshi bilateral relations experienced their worst in 2016, when Turkey withdrew its ambassador in Dhaka following the execution of Bangladeshi JI leader Motiur Rahman Nizami. Erdoğan publicly rebuked Prime Minister Hasina in a speeches delivered at public rallies in Turkey’s election campaign to woo Islamist voters.
Bangladesh accuses Turkey of exporting radical Islam into South Asia and sponsoring JI, the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideological cousin in the region, and its affiliated organizations. According to some experts, Bangladesh believes the camps that would be established by Turkey might become an incubator for JI and radical Islamist groups.
Nordic Monitor previously reported that Yasin Aktay, chief advisor to party leader Erdoğan, highlighted in a video interview JI’s role in advancing the Islamist agenda of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). JI and the Muslim Brotherhood are “soft power proxies” that helped bolster Turkey’s role as leader of a global caliphate “defending oppressed and victimized Muslims,” Aktay told the pro-government Hilal TV.
In the video Aktay also complained about the lack of an international political body that represents all Muslims since the abolishment of the caliphate in Turkey in 1924 and said Turkey under the Erdoğan government was playing this role in practice by defending oppressed and victimized Muslims. Aktay was deputy chairman of the ruling AKP responsible for managing the AKP’s foreign relations and served as party spokesperson.
JI was founded in 1941 in British India by Islamist theologian Maulana Syed Abdul Ala Maududi. The party split into separate independent organizations in India and Pakistan in 1947, and then other groups related to JI developed in Bangladesh, Kashmir and Afghanistan. In 2013 Bangladesh’s high court declared the registration of JI to be illegal and banned it from competing in general elections.