Bangladesh High Commission, Singapore

Bangladesh-Singapore Bilateral Relations

Bangladesh and Singapore have been enjoying friendly bilateral relations for last four decades since the establishment of diplomatic relations in February 1972. Bangladesh's diplomatic representation in Singapore was first made with the opening of a Trade Commission in 1973. A full-fledged Diplomatic Mission, headed by a Resident High Commissioner, was established ten years later in 1983. In April 1997, the Singapore High Commissioner to Bangladesh was appointed with Residence in Singapore. However, Singapore is yet to open a full-fledged Resident Mission in Dhaka. In Bangladesh, Singapore is represented by a Consular Office opened in December 1997.

The relations between the two countries have further been strengthened in the recent years with interactions and initiatives undertaken at various governmental and private levels. Bangladesh and Singapore share a similar international outlook on many issues of mutual interest and enjoy excellent working relations in various international fora including the United

Nations. Bangladesh is also member of the ReCAAP (Regional Cooperation for Anti-Piracy in Asia Pacific and ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) pioneered by Singapore. For last few years, Bangladesh has been participating at the Ministerial level at the IISS Asia Security Summit: The Shangri-La Dialogue, which is hosted by International Institute of Strategic Studies in Singapore.

Recent Bilateral Visits

Visits by Bangladesh Dignitaries

  1. Md. Abdul Hamid, Hon’ble President of Bangladesh visited Singapore in November 2014 and May 2015 for medical treatment.
  2. H.E. Mr. Gowher Rizvi, Hon’ble Adviser for International Affairs visited Singapore to attend the Asia Security Summit (Shangri-La-Dialogue) in the year 2014. Hon’ble Adviser met 2nd Minister of Defence of Singapore and discussed with him the issues of mutual interests like Climate Change, Human Security and Disaster Reduction in Asia Pacific.
  3. Hon’ble State Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr. Md. Shahriar Alam, MP attended the Asia Security Summit in 2014.
  4. Hon’ble Minister for Health and Family Welfare Mr. Mohammad Nasim, MP paid an official visit to Singapore from 3 – 10 July 2014. He met Singapore Health Minister Mr. Gan Kim Yong for enhancing cooperation in the field of training the Bangladeshi doctors and nurses in Singapore.
  5. H.E. Mr. Gowher Rizvi, Hon’ble Adviser for International Affairs visited Singapore on 04 September 2014 for attending the 2nd Investment Summit on Bangladesh.
  6. Education Minister Mr. Nurul Islam Nahid paid an official visit to Singapore from 03 – 04 October 2014 and a MOU was signed between the Nanyang Polytechnic International, Singapore and Directorate of Technical Education of Bangladesh. Under the MOU, Singapore will offer 22 training Programs for 420 selected participants from Bangladesh’s Technical Institutions.
  7. Dr. Dipu Moni, MP, Chairman, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, visited Singapore on 16 October 2014 for attending the Asian Women Parliamentarian Conference (AWPC).
  8. Hon’ble Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, MP visited Singapore on 27 March 2015 to attend the ‘Lying in State’ ceremony after the death of Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore.
  9. Engineer Khandker Mosharraf Hossain, M.P, Minister, Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare & Overseas Employment paid an official visit to Singapore from 29 March to 01 April 2015 and met Dr. Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State of the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Manpower, Singapore.
  10. Members of Parliaments, Cabinet Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Secretariat from other Ministries, Chairman of Petro-Bangla and senior officials of the Government of Bangladesh visited Singapore for various official engagements.

Visits by Singapore Dignitaries

  1. H.E. Masagos Zulkifli, Hon’ble Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs of Singapore visited Bangladesh from 12 – 17 October 2014. He led a business delegation to Bangladesh. During the visit, he called on the Hon’ble Prime Minster, Hon’ble Housing and Public Works Minister and Hon’ble Minister of Commerce.

Agreement/MOU with Singapore

SL Name of the Agreement/MoU Date
1. Agreement between the Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh and the Government of the Republic of Singapore for the Avoidance of Double Taxation on and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with respect to Taxes Income. 01.01.1980/1982
2. Agreement between the Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh and the Government of the Republic of Singapore for Air Services between and beyond their Respective Territories was concluded. 26 May 1979
3. Agreement between the Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh and the Government of the Republic of Singapore for the Promotion and Protection of Investments. 26 May 1979
4. Confidential Memorandum of Understanding on Air Services between the Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh and the Government of the Republic of Singapore. 8 July 2008,Singapore
5. Third Party Note by Singapore for Informing Exemption of Visa Requirements for Holder of Diplomatic and Official Passport. Was effective from 29 December 1997

Bilateral Trade

Bilateral trade between Bangladesh and Singapore is characterized by a heavily favorable trade balance tilted to Singapore. Total trade between Bangladesh and Singapore during the fiscal year (FY) 2013-14 was more than US$ 2.5 billion, of which US$ 2.37 billion was export of Singapore to Bangladesh. In the same period, export of Bangladesh to Singapore was US$ 136 million only. The trend of bilateral trade shows that during the last one decade trade grew steadily from FY 2004-05 to FY 2008-09. Then it declined continuously for the two consecutive fiscal years. Then it again rose to US$ 1.7 billion in FY 2011-12 only to fall to a level of US$ 1.4 billion during FY 2012-13. During the last fiscal year (2013-14) a sharp rise has been observed in the bilateral trade volume.

Figure 1: Export to and import from Singapore (US$ million) [Source: Bangladesh Bank]

Figure 2: Growth rate of export to and import from Singapore (%). [Source: Bangladesh Bank]

Bangladesh’s Major Export to Singapore

Singapore is a capital intensive country, but lacks the supply of labor. Therefore, Bangladesh, which is a labor intensive country, exports products in which it has comparative advantage as well as requires labor intensive technology. This is reflected by following list of major exports from Bangladesh to Singapore:

SL Major items SL Major items SL Major items
1. Frozen Food 5. Raw jute 9. Home Textile
2. Agricultural Products 6. Jute goods 10. Bicycle
3. Chemical Products 7. Knitwear 11. Tea
4. Leather and Leather products 8. Woven Garments 12. Footwear

[Note on export of sand from Bangladesh: It has been learnt from a letter of the High Commission of Singapore dated 27 April 2015 that the Ministry of Water Resources had floated the idea of exporting sand excavated from the river beds. In the same letter that High Commission opined that exporting sand could be disastrous to environment.]

Bangladesh’s Major Import from Singapore

It has been learnt from a letter of the High Commission of Singapore dated 27 April 2015 that the Ministry of Water Resources had floated the idea of exporting sand excavated from the river beds. In the same letter that High Commission opined that exporting sand could be disastrous to environment.

SL Major items SL Major items SL Major items
1. Mineral fuels, mineral oils and products of their distillation, bituminous substances, mineral waxes 6. Miscellaneous chemical products 11. Salt, Sulphur, earths and stone, plastering materials, lime and cement
2. Boilers, machinery and mechanical appliances, parts thereof 7. Organic chemicals 12. Paper and paperboard, articles of paper pulp, of paper or of paperboard
3. Iron and steel 8. Ships, boats and floating structures 13. Man-made filaments
4. Plastics and articles thereof 9. Animal or vegetable fats and oils and their cleavage products, prepared edible fats, animal or vegetable waxes 14. Wood and articles of wood
5. Electrical machinery and equipment and parts thereof, sound recorders and reproducers, television image and sound recorders and reproducers and parts and accessories of such articles 10. Cotton (all types), cotton yarn/thread and cotton fabrics 15. Articles of apparel and clothing accessories, not knitted or crocheted

Source: Bangladesh Bank.

The list of major import items of Bangladesh from Singapore reveals that the volume of capital goods constitutes a significant share in the total import from Singapore. According to the import statistics provided by Bangladesh Bank for the fiscal year 2013-14, it appears that the top import item (mineral fuels, mineral oil and other related products) alone constitutes 64% of the total import from Singapore. Bangladesh Bank also reports that for FY 2013-14 Singapore is the third largest import source Bangladesh, after China and India, with a share of 6.3% in the total imports by Bangladesh from the world markets.

Investment

Singapore is a leading investor in Bangladesh with net investments stock of about US$ 700 million, of which foreign direct investment (FDI) stock is US$ 405.62 million. According to the size of the stock of investment, Singapore is one of the top 10 countries that have invested in Bangladesh. However, looking at the flow of investment in the recent years, it appears that flow of investment from Singapore is increasing over the years and the size of inflows from Singapore is greater than those from Netherlands and USA.

According to the report of BOI, joint venture investment of US$ 892.83 Million from Singapore have been registered with the BOI up to June 2014. BOI also reported that employment opportunities for 25387 persons have been created by the FDI and joint venture investments from Singapore.

Figure 3: Top 10 countries with the highest FDI stock (US$ million)

Figure 4: Flow of FDI from selected countries (US$ million)

Defense Cooperation

Bangladesh’s defense cooperation with Singapore is characterized by exchange of visits, training of officers and purchase of non-combat supplies for Bangladesh Armed Forces from Singapore. Bangladesh armed forces also buy arms and equipment supply from Singaporean companies. Bangladesh Armed Forces send their officers from different disciplines to Singapore to undergo various short and long term courses including training in National University Hospital, Singapore. Military officers also attend regularly conferences and workshops in Singapore. Bangladesh regularly offers training placements in the Command and Staff College and the National Defence College (NDC) for Singapore defence personnel so offers different courses for Bangladesh defence personnel on reciprocal basis.

Education and Training

Under Singapore Cooperation Training Program Awards (SCPTA), Singapore offers a number of training facilities for Bangladeshi Civil Servants in the areas of capacity building and governance. In the year 2012, Singapore Government offered about 40 training programs on different subject matters including Environmental Management, Energy, Education, Air Safety, Monetary Policy, and other technical issues. About 50 government officials from Bangladesh attend the courses offered by the SCPTA. Apart from that under the DFID (UK) funded “Managing at the Top (MATT)” program around 90 officers at the level of Sr. Assistant Secretary to Joint Secretary of Bangladesh Government were trained at the Civil Service College of Singapore.

During the visit of Hon’ble Education Minister of Bangladesh to Singapore from 03 – 04 October 2014 an MOU was signed between the Nanyang Polytechnic International, Singapore and Directorate of Technical Education of Bangladesh. Under the MOU, trainings are being provided for 22 groups of 420 selected participants from Bangladesh’s Technical and vocational Institutions.

Although, we do not have any Agreement on exchange programs, many Bangladeshi students were offered scholarships by the Universities and institutes of Singapore to do research and study undergraduate and graduate courses. Bangladeshi students also go to Singapore under private arrangements to study in various high schools and private educational institutes.

Cooperation in Tourism

Singapore is one of the most important and most frequently-visiting destinations for Bangladeshi tourists. However, Bangladesh is yet to be developed as a popular tourist destination for the Singaporean tourists. As Singapore is one of the major developing partners of Bangladesh, especially in the spheres of infrastructure development, cooperation may also be forged between the countries in tourism field to develop tourism infrastructure in Bangladesh. The followings may be considered to extend mutual cooperation in this field:

Technical Cooperation for Marketing and Promotional Activities Bangladesh

Singapore is one of the most important and most frequently-visiting destinations for Bangladeshi tourists. However, Bangladesh is yet to be developed as a popular tourist destination for the Singaporean tourists. As Singapore is one of the major developing partners of Bangladesh especially in the spheres of infrastructure development, cooperation may also be forged between the countries in tourism field. The Government of Singapore may be requested to provide technical and financial assistance to promote tourism products of Bangladesh in the overseas market including Singapore. Singapore government may be requested to deploy its tourism experts to Bangladesh for preparing action plan on tourism marketing.

Investment in Tourism sector of Bangladesh

Singapore is one of the leading investors in Bangladesh and its investment has witnessed significant growth in recent years. Singapore has invested multi-million USD through Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) track which makes it one of the top 10 investors in Bangladesh. The Singaporean companies may be requested to invest in hotels and holiday resorts creation, and development of tourism infrastructure etc. It may be informed that the Industrial Policy and Tourism Policy of the Government of Bangladesh have ensured various offers of incentives for foreign investors.

Development of tourism human resource for Bangladesh

Singapore demonstrates a spectacular instance in developing its own human resources. Bangladesh needs scholarship on tourism training facilities from Singapore. The human resources in tourism sector of Bangladesh can be developed by way of having training facilities from Singapore in the following disciplines:

  1. Destination Development Planning;
  2. Tourism Marketing;
  3. Tourism/Hotel Management;

Singapore Government may be requested to offer scholarships for training in Singapore Institutes on the above disciplines proposed.

Exchange of Familiarization Tours

Bangladesh and Singapore may agree to organize familiarization tours for tourism professionals and travel writers of each country through mutual exchange program to share experiences and promote tourism

Cooperation in Package and Conducted Tour Programs

The Government of Singapore may encourage its public and private sector tour organizers to include Bangladesh as a tourist destination. The unique natural beauty, exotic tribal life, world's largest mangrove forest Sundarbans, World's longest unbroken sandy beach at Cox's Bazar and archeological heritage specially century-old Buddhist relics (viz. largest Buddha statue in Kuakata, 8th century-old Asia's largest Buddhist vihara at Paharpur in Naogaon, Mainamti Shalban Bihar in Comilla) of Bangladesh would become a major sources of attraction for Singapore tourists.

Air Service Cooperation

An Air Services Agreement (ASA) between Bangladesh and Singapore was signed on 26 May 1979. Confidential Memorandum of Understanding (CMU) was signed on 30May 1986, 19 January 1993, 12 December 2000 and 08 July 2008. The latest CMU was signed on 15 December 2010 between the two countries.

Frequency & Capacity

As per CMU dated 15 December 2010, the designated airlines of the contracting parties shall be allowed to operate up to 21 (twenty one) weekly passengers or combination services with any aircraft type. The designated airlines of each contracting parties shall be allowed to operate unlimited frequencies and capacities, and with any aircraft type for all cargo services.

Present Operation

Bangladesh Designated Airlines:

Biman Bangladesh Airlines (BG) DAC-SIN-DAC Weekly Frequency/06

Singapore Designated Airlines:

Singapore Airlines (SQ) SIN-DAC-SIN Weekly Frequency/07
Tiger Airways (RX) SIN-DAC-SIN Weekly Frequency/07

Power and Energy Sector

Singapore is currently assisting the Power Sector development of Bangladesh with two projects on electricity generation- (1) 700 MW Coal Based Power Plant in Matabari, Cox’s Bazar and (2) Implementation of 400MW +10% Dual Fuel Combined Cycle Power Project.

An MOU has been signed on 15 April 2015 between IE Singapore and Coal Power Generation Company Bangladesh Limited to implement the first project.

Government of Bangladesh has consented for implementation of the second project in Sirajganj District. The proposal submitted by SembCorp Utilities Pte Ltd Singapore is now under process in Power Division.

Employment of Bangladesh Workers in Singapore

Singapore is a favorite destination for many Bangladeshi workers. The main reason is that working conditions are better in Singapore compared to most of the other countries. It is estimated that there are about 150000 Bangladeshi workers are working in different sectors of Singapore. It is to be noted that there is no G to G manpower agreement between Bangladesh and Singapore. The Singapore government does not have such agreement with any other government. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) of Singapore, which deals basically with policy objectives, has very little to do with direct recruitment of foreign workers of the country. The recruitment is done directly by local private sector corporations, multi nationals and individual employers. Construction industry in Singapore is a major employer of Bangladeshi workers. The ship building and industries and their subsidiaries are traditionally other major employers of Bangladeshi workers. Apart from the industrial workers, there are about 5000 Bangladeshi professionals and talents who are employed in different universities, polytechnic institutes and maritime industry in Singapore. In FY 2013-2014, Bangladeshi expatriates in Singapore remitted US$ 429.11 million while from July 2014 to February 2015, the total remittance flow from Singapore to Bangladesh stands at US $297.93 million. We urge the Government of Singapore for further recruitment of skilled and semi-skilled workers from Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is also one of the approved source countries for Foreign Domestic Workers (house maids) in Singapore. Although, the number of maids from Bangladesh is not very significant, the trend is steadily growing.

Singapore is also a major source of remittance for Bangladesh. During the FY 2013-14 remittance from Singapore was US$ 429.11 million (3.02% of the total remittance inflow). One notable trend of remittance from Singapore is that while percentage share of remittance from other major sources like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, U.K and Italy have fallen over the last five years, remittance from Singapore have in fact increased.

Figure 5: Country-wise share (%) of remittance

Figure 6: Flow of FDI from selected countries (US$ million)

Multilateral Engagements with Singapore

Bangladesh has a long standing record of excellent cooperation and coordination with Singapore at various international fora including the UN. Singapore supported Bangladesh's candidature to the Human Rights Council for 2015-17 and CEDAW Committee (2014-19).

Singapore has been organizing the Sangri-La Dialogue since 2002. This is a ‘Track One’ inter-governmental security forum. The dialogue provides a sense of community among the most important policymakers in the defense and security community in the region. Bangladesh almost attends regularly the event. Last year, the Hon’ble International Affairs Adviser to the Prime Minister and the Hon’ble State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh attended the 13th Sangri-La Dialogue 2014 held in Singapore. It is expected that Bangladesh would also participate at the forthcoming 14th Sangri-La Dialogue 2015 to be held from 29-31 may 2015 in Singapore.

The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Singapore arranges Informal Discussions on Regional Perspective on the Development of Rakhaine State and the Movement of its Residents on a regular basis. Bangladesh participates actively, and plays a very constructive role during the discussions. Through this platform, Bangladesh raises its voice persistently for creating a very conducive environment for the Muslim Myanamar Nationals in the Rakhaine State. In April 2015, Bangladesh attended the ninth round of Informal Discussions.

Developments in the Bay of Bengal

Healthy oceans are essential for global food security, livelihoods and economic growth. The oceans are both an engine for global economic growth and a key source of food security. The world faces one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century: how to feed 9 billion people by 2050 in the face of climate change, economic and financial uncertainty and the growing competition for natural resources. These multiple challenges require an integrated response and an urgent transition of the world economy towards a sustainable, inclusive and resource efficient path.

Through the Hague Arbitration verdict announced on 7 July 2014 on the delimitation of maritime boundary between Bangladesh and India; sovereign rights of Bangladesh to explore, exploit, and manage living and non-living resources of the Bay of Bengal increased from 40,000 sq km (till 2009) to 1,18,813 sq km of sea area (total land area 1,47,570 sq km).Thus Bangladesh maintaining good bi-lateral relations with the neighboring countries set an unprecedented example of peaceful solution of maritime boundary delimitation in Asia.

Blue Economy:

Now, Bangladesh in line with the objectives of the blue economy is determined to initiate appropriate programs for sustainable harnessing of the resources of the sea, carry out research to develop relevant sectors of oceanography, assess stock of marine resources, introduce marine aquaculture, deep sea/long line fishing and bio-technology and develop human resource.

With a view to improving food security, eradicating poverty and delivering shared prosperity, ocean practitioners, scientists, and representatives from government, business, civil society and international organizations came together in Dhaka for an International Workshop on 1st and 2nd September 2014 to explore action-oriented partnerships, governance arrangements, investment frameworks and new financing vehicles to turn the tide not only on the health of Oceans but also how the resources of the sea could be used for economic emancipation/blue economy. There is need to demonstrate measurable steps towards critical internationally agreed targets for fisheries, aquaculture, habitat protection and pollution reduction. The International workshop also highlighted the need to address the next frontiers of successful integrated approaches that include public-private partners, secure financing and catalyze good ocean governance while reconciling tensions and balancing priorities between growth and conservation, private sector interests and equitable benefits for communities and areas beyond national jurisdiction and EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zones within the 200-mile limit) from the coast.

Maritime Security:

As an overarching regime concerning international law of the sea, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides the international legal framework to combat maritime security issues. Bangladesh, a State Party to the UNCLOS, is fully committed to secure its marine areas and beyond from unlawful activities. Article 101 spells out the commission of act of piracy in the high seas which Bangladesh has never experienced. Rather Bangladesh experiences offence of similar nature such as petty theft and armed robbery in its coastal waters and ports. But due to effective enforcement of law by the Coast Guard and other law enforcement agencies at the coastal belt, the criminal activities have declined considerably.

Bangladesh has taken measures to criminalize the act of piracy and establish the applicable penalties commensurate with the severity with the offences, in order to ensure the effective implementation of Art 105 of UNCLOS. National Legislation may also set forth a procedure under which national courts may determine the action to be taken with regard to seized ships, aircraft or subject to rights of third parties in good faith. Ministry of Foreign Affairs is now working with Ministry of Shipping and Ministry of Law for drafting of an anti-piracy act. As the ministry has initiated the process of drafting anti-piracy act, in near future such law would be in place on approval of the national parliament. In view of the above, it is evident that there exists ample opportunity for cooperation in the field of maritime security, including piracy to the mutual benefit of both Bangladesh and Singapore. Both the countries uphold that freedom of navigation is essential for economic prosperity of our people and maintaining peace and stability to a large extent at the global level. In this regard, institutional capacity building may be the prime focus with regional countries; the capacity building may target on three major areas: (i)institutional capacity building at government level like coast guard to coast guard cooperation; (ii)academic capacity building, by exchange of academic professionals in the field of oceanography, coastal management, environmental management, marine resource planning; and (iii)transfer of technology in the field of maritime security like improving surveillance and maritime patrol capacity with the introduction of upgraded modern equipment, raising appropriate on-shore infrastructure and off-shore services, setting up lab facilities required for ensuring criminal justice at the sea.

Involvement with IORA:

Bangladesh is closely working with Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) on regional maritime security issues. As a Member State of IORA, Bangladesh is actively promoting the concept of IORA Blue Economy and Marine Safety & Security Cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region. For comprehensive regional cooperation, as a member state Bangladesh prefers deeper engagement with IORA and expects better execution of IORA Sustainable Development Program (ISDP). In the overarching maritime security architecture following developments in the Bay of Bengal may be considered:

  1. Piracy/Armed robbery at sea: Although there has not been a single case of piracy in Bangladesh waters, yet in the recent years, there are cases of occasional armed robbery and petty theft in our ports. Due to the strong measures by the law enforcing agencies of Bangladesh, cases of robbery and theft have dropped significantly in recent years.
  2. Arms and drug trafficking: The golden triangle is close to our maritime boundary. Drug trafficking and gun running are quite common problems in our neighborhood. Law enforcement agencies always need to be on guard to curb such incidences.
  3. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing: Illegal fishing by the foreign trawlers in our Waters and in the high Seas are quite threatening for Bangladesh. In our case Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing in the Bay one day may impact greatly on the livelihood of millions of our fisher folk who are losing their catch due to unauthorized foreign fishing trawlers in the EEZ and high sea areas.
  4. Maritime pollution and marine casualty: Maritime pollution in the Bay areas has always been a serious concern for Bangladesh. At the same time it has very limited capability to handle any serious problems of marine casualty at sea. Bangladesh hardly has any preparation to meet such emergencies.
  5. Maritime Enforcement Capability: Bangladesh Coast Guard and Bangladesh Navy are currently designated with such duties. However, both the Coast Guard and Navy are overburdened and lack modern facilities. These Institutions could be strengthened with the assistance of Singapore.

As a developing country Bangladesh would appreciate Singapore's support and assistance in different sectors of marine domain like capacity building for marine scientific research, technology transfer, human resources development, exchange programs (training and opportunities for higher studies in Oceanographic institutes of Singapore). It may be highlighted, that seafarers of Bangladesh are facing difficulties to get necessary visas from Singapore [though they are carrying their Continuous Discharge Certificate (CDC) and Seafarers Identity Document (SID)] while joining and returning from the ships. Employment opportunity would be increased for Bangladeshi seafarers if the concerned department of Singapore may take necessary action to resolve these difficulties.

Bangladesh’s Response to the Recent Incidents of Human Trafficking and People’s Smuggling in the South East Asian Region

The human trafficking and people’s smuggling crisis in the South East Asian region has once again brought back the issue of the Muslims of Myanmar’s Rakhine State, commonly known as Rohingyas, to international attention. However, rescue, protection and repatriation of the victims and the dismantling of trafficking networks will only succeed when the issue is addressed across its entire spectrum at sources, during transit and at destinations. Beyond that, the recurrence of such a crisis can only be avoided if the root causes are comprehensively addressed. Though there is a growing consensus emerging on regional solution and addressing root causes, Myanmar's initial response has been that of denial.

Genesis of the Crisis:

The recent incidents of rescue and detention of a huge number of victims of human trafficking and people’s smuggling in the region have validated Bangladesh’s overriding concerns over root cause of the problem emanating from the continued persecution and discrimination against the Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. According to UNHCR, since the outbreak of sectarian violence in the Rakhine State in 2012, and the resulting segregation of the Rohingyas into enclosed camps or ghettos, more than 120,000 of them had fled Myanmar by sea since then, with nearly 25,000 leaving during January-March 2015. Again, according to IOM, the ratio of children to adults among those rescued and brought into the temporary shelter in Indonesia’s Aceh Province has been found to be 1:3, which bears clear sign of such irregular movements taking place due to political reasons. This trend has been further accentuated by the cancellation of the Temporary Registration Cards (commonly known as ‘white cards’) for the Rohingyas by the Myanmar authorities, with effect from 01 April 2015.

International Community’s Response:

It appears that the international community has remained sensitized to this ‘root cause’ of the problem, which has been further aggravated due to the involvement of a trans-national criminal nexus taking advantage of the vulnerability of the Rohingyas and their desperation to flee. The New York Times, in an editorial datelined 13 May 2015, captured this sentiment quite eloquently, “Myanmar’s mistreatment of the Rohingyas – which has been roundly condemned by the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and human rights groups – is the root of this crisis. Its government has even blocked the Association of Southeast Asian Nations from discussing the Rohingyas’ plight.”

In a sign of the ASEAN nations also gearing up for action, the Malaysian Prime Minister H. E. Mr. Najib Razak has been reported to have said on ... May 2015, “We will work through the ASEAN network to find an ASEAN solution. We hope the Myanmar Government will not consider this as interfering in its domestic matters, but will look at it as trying to avoid a human tragedy of gargantuan proportions.” In a similar vein, the Malaysian Deputy Home Minister Mr. Wan Junaidi has been reported to have said on 14 May 2015, “Of course, there is a problem back home in Myanmar with the way they treat the Rohingya people... So, that is why we need to send a very strong message to Myanmar – that they need to treat their people with humanity... and cannot be so oppressive.”

Myanmar’s Response in the face of International Scrutiny:

To the sheer dismay of the international community, and ASEAN in particular, the Myanmar authorities had denied responsibility for the current crisis and even made an effort to brand the Rohingyas as ‘Bengalis’ and ‘illegal immigrants’ from Bangladesh as part of their ongoing orchestrated campaign to this effect. They also ‘threatened’ to stay away from a regional emergency meeting convened by the Government of Thailand on 29 May 2015, on the grounds of their objection to the use of the term Rohingyas in referring to the victims of trafficking and people’s smuggling. However, due to some intense pressure mounting on them from different quarters, they seem to have somewhat nuanced their rhetoric, and have indicated their willingness ‘to help stem the current human trafficking problem’, as an announcement to this effect was made by the Union Minister of Information Mr. U Ye Htut on 18 May 2015. In addition, Mr. Nyan Win, spokesperson for Ms. Aung Sun Suu-kyi, Leader of the National Democratic League (NLD), has reportedly said on 18 May 2015, “If they [Rohingyas] are not accepted [as citizens], they cannot just be... pushed out to sea. They are humans. I just see them as humans who are entitled to human rights.”

Bangladesh as Collateral Victim of the Crisis:

In general, it appears that the recent crisis has galvanized international and regional opinion in favour of finding a durable solution to the Rohingya issue in Myanmar. The international community’s comments and observations in this regard also reflect their awareness that the Bangladeshi nationals have been collateral victims of a crisis that had originated with the Rohingyas. The trafficking and people’s smuggling routes by sea that had been created for and by the Rohingyas in their desperate bid to migrate to Malaysia had eventually got Bangladeshi nationals falling prey to the trafficking networks. During interviews with the Bangladesh nationals rescued in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, it has been found that many of them had been duped by trafficking agents with the prospect of finding lucrative job opportunities in Malaysia. It has been found that some of the Bangladeshi nationals were also allegedly abducted by the trafficking networks under various false pretexts.

It is further obvious that the perpetrators of trafficking, people’s smuggling and related organised crimes in the region had also been taking advantage of a demand-supply dynamics that allowed for exploitation of people in the labour markets of Malaysia and Thailand. The shrinking of employment opportunities in Malaysia through official channels has created a vaccum in their labour market which has, nevertheless, got the proven capacity to absorb more labour force than recruited through safe, sound and legal means. This has prompted many Rohingyas, and some Bangladeshis following their suit, to undertake perilous voyages at sea to reach to the Malaysian shores in anticipation of an eventual ‘work permit’ and support from other community members already based in Malaysia.

The trafficking networks operating in the region may have discovered that it would add to their profit if they could include some Bangladeshis in their usual caseload of Rohingyas, and found a group of young people in Bangladesh who were willing to respond to their false offers. Many of these people were led on to small fishing boats to carry them over to fishing trawlers and cargo boats moored in the high seas, mostly coming from Myanmar and other parts of the region. While it is imperative for Bangladesh to scale up the ongoing information and awareness raising campaign for the target audience, it would be absolutely essential to forge effective regional cooperation to take effective legal action against the trafficking and people’s smuggling networks with their transnational operation network and support base.

Measures taken by Bangladesh:

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has directed the concerned Bangladesh Missions to remain seized with the unfolding situation, particularly with regard to the victims in their respective host countries, and coordinate their efforts in close contact with all concerned, including the relevant UN and other international organizations. The measures so far taken by the relevant Bangladesh Missions are summarized below:

Bangladesh Mission in Thailand: With the advent of the reports of Bangladesh nationals among those buried and impounded in Southern Thailand, the Ministry had immediately asked the Embassy in Bangkok to verify the reports and seek consular access for interviewing the concerned victims of Bangladeshi origin.

Accordingly, the Ambassador of Bangladesh approached the relevant Thai authorities, and based on the consular access granted to the Mission, visited Sadao and Ratthaphum districts of Songkhla province on 07-08 May 2015 to meet the self-identified Bangladesh nationals. The Ambassador and her colleagues met with one Toton Shaha (Mr.) from Narayanganj who had been rescued by the Thai police from a jungle near the Thai-Malaysian border on 01 May 2014, and was undergoing treatment at the Sadao District Hospital. The Ambassador and her team also interviewed 15 self-identified Bangladeshi nationals in a protection centre in Ratthaphum district. These victims had been found by the Thai police during their counter-trafficking operations close to the Thai-Malaysian borders.

Following the Ambassador’s visit, the Thai authorities reportedly rescued 123 more individuals from the forests near the Thai-Malaysian borders, among whom 92 reportedly claimed to be Bangladesh nationals. Till the time of receiving the last report, the Mission was in the process of making arrangements for interviewing the self-identified Bangladesh nationals kept in the Ratthaphum Police Station.

The Ambassador has had a number of meetings with the relevant Thai authorities, including in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. She reaffirmed Bangladesh’s continued cooperation with the concerned host countries including Thailand for facilitating the verification of the rescued victims of Bangladeshi origin, and their eventual repatriation in cooperation with the concerned international and regional partners. The Ambassador also underscored the need for combined regional efforts to address the root causes of the current crisis through mutual consultations and understanding. During her visit to Songkhla Province, the Ambassador had a meeting with the Vice Governor of the Province and the Senior Commander of the local Thai Police.

Among other issues, the Mission presently remains engaged with the concerned Thai authorities regarding the Special Meeting convened by the host Government on 29 May 2015 to discuss irregular movements in the South Asian Region, with focus on the current crisis, with the participation of representatives from 15 countries and entities, including the US and the EU, and relevant international organisations. Bangladesh has decided, in principle, to attend the meeting.

Bangladesh Mission in Malaysia: In the immediate aftermath of receiving reports of 557 Bangladeshi nationals being detained by the Malaysian Police in the early morning of 11 May 2015, the Bangladesh High Commission in Kuala Lumpur sent an official to Langkawi under Kedah State to enquire about the well-being of the concerned Bangladeshis and interview them.

By then, the Malaysian police had handed over the detainees to the local Immigration authorities who accommodated them initially at the International Shooting Range in Langkawi, and subsequently at the Belantik Immigration camp. The designated official from the High Commission interviewed a number of detainees (among the reportedly 603 identifying themselves as Bangladeshis) at the Shooting Range, and enquired about their possible requirements for any further humanitarian assistance beyond what was already being provided by the Malaysian authorities. The victims interviewed said that their basic needs were being catered for, and also shared their experience of being lured on to the boats by the trafficking agents.

Based on information provided by the Malaysian Immigration authorities as well as the interviews conducted, the Mission is in the process of obtaining the list of all victims of Bangladesh origin. It has been confirmed by the Mission that there has been no woman or children among the self-identified Bangladeshis.

Some of people interviewed by the Mission in Lankawi have been found to be originally hailing from Jhenaidaha, Chuadanga, Tangail, Cox’s Bazar, Madaripur, Jessore, Pabna, Habigang, Narshingdi, Sirajganj and Brahmanbaria districts.

On 21 May 2015, Bangladesh Mission in Malaysia sent a list of 576 people, of which 571 has been cited as from Bangladesh and the rest 5 persons have been cited as from Myanmar. The list appears to be prepared by Malaysian authorities. Bangladesh Mission added that on a meeting held on 20 May 2015 in Kuala Lumpur among Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, it has been decided that Malaysia and Indonesia would offer temporary shelter to 7000 irregular migrants who are still at sea. According to the Mission, it was being expected that Malaysia, as the current ASEAN Chair, might call for a mini ASEAN Summit during the meeting scheduled on 29 May in Bangkok.

Bangladesh Mission in Indonesia: With regard to Indonesia, in the aftermath of receiving news about a number of boat people, including reportedly Bangladeshi nationals being rescued or left adrift in the sea off the Indonesian coasts, the Bangladesh Mission in Jakarta approached the concerned Indonesian authorities and sought consular access to the detention camp/s in the Aceh province. The Mission officials have already interviewed a total of 237 self-identified Bangladeshi nationals who had been rescued by the Indonesian authorities, and sent the list to the capital for further verification.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already forwarded the list to the Ministry of Home Affairs and other relevant agencies for initiating the verification process on a priority basis.

The Mission has also remained engaged with verifying reports on additional boat people of Bangladeshi origin being further rescued by Indonesian fishermen from Aceh as well as those stranded at sea for not being allowed to disembark on the Indonesian shores.

On 21 May 2015, H.E. Ambassador of Bangladesh in Indonesia informed that in addition to the 237 self-identified Bangladeshis, another list of 421 persons was being compiled for onward transmission to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Bangladesh Mission in the Philippines: The Ministry has also directed the Bangladesh Embassy in Manila to ascertain the report on the Philippines Government having offered the boat people admission into its territory. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of the Philippines was reportedly working on an official statement in this regard. The Mission has remained in contact with both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Presidential Office of the host Government in this regard.

It may be noted that the Philippines is the only State Party to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees in the South and South East Asian region.

On 21 May 2015, Bangladesh Mission in the Philippines sent a message conveying the official stand of the Philippines regarding the boat people. It appears from the message that the Philippines assured to extend its cooperation and relief to the boat people. However, there was nothing specific in the message related to providing shelter to those people in their territory.

Operations by Bangladesh Coast Guard: The concerned border security and law enforcement agencies of the Government remain on alert to detect any irregular movement by boats off the Bangladesh coasts and in Bangladesh’s territorial waters to intercept them or bring them to safety, as the case may be.

According to information received so far, Bangladesh Coast Guard has, during 01 – 18 May 2015, intercepted and rescued a total of 135 people while they were making attempts to migrate to Malaysia by boats.

Further information is being obtained from other concerned agencies. The Bangladesh Missions in the region, including in Yangon, have remained on alert for confirmation of news of more boat people drifting off the Myanmar coasts and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Emergency Contact:   Consular Service: 6661 0295 & 6661 0290 Labour Wing: 6661 0279