Around the world there is growing condemnation of Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya minority. The Rohingyas are an ethnic Muslim minority group living primarily in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state.
The estimated one million Rohingya in Myanmar account for nearly a third of the Rakhine population. The Rohingyas differ from Myanmar’s dominant Buddhist groups ethnically, linguistically, and religiously. Myanmar’s government denies them citizenship and sees them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh – a common attitude among many Burmese. The predominantly Buddhist country has a long history of communal mistrust, which was allowed to simmer, and was at times exploited, under decades of military rule. Myanmar nationalists use the term Bengali for Rohingyas because of a belief they migrated illegally from Bangladesh, even though many families have been in Myanmar for generations.
Myanmar’s policy of exclusion of ethnic minorities, who constitute about 40 per cent of its population, is what has created the problem. Rohingyas have been subjected to persecution by the state of Myanmar in the form of shooting of unarmed civilians, torture and rape, which according to the UN, could tantamount to crimes against humanity.
People are fleeing to Bangladesh for shelter after losing everything in one incident after another. The government of Bangladesh is pressing Myanmar government to take back its nationals as the number of Rohingya refugees fleeing recent violence in the Rakhine State into Bangladesh is rising by thousands. Bangladesh has sheltered hundreds of thousands of Myanmar Rohingyas, including around 164,000 in recent weeks, according to UN estimation.
Recently a crackdown by the Myanmar Army on Rohingya insurgents after killings of 13 members of the security forces in Rakhine State has left nearly 400 killed, including civilians, the Myanmar authorities said. Longstanding tension between the Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists erupted in bloody rioting in 2012. That set off a surge of anti-Muslim feeling throughout the country. The UN estimates the number could rise up to 300,000. They have come by land, river and sea. Many have died along the way. Others have found themselves detained by human traffickers, demanding payment for their rescue. Their destination is the Cox’s Bazar region of impoverished Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas already live in makeshift camps, reliant on overstretched aid agencies. The most inhumane side of this situation is that the women and children are in misery; newborns are dying. Only hearing about something like this causes pain. It is unbearable.
Bangladesh, which has nothing to do with the making of the crisis and yet treated it as a humanitarian issue to the best of its abilities, has been facing the adverse consequences of the Rohingya persecution. Recruited by criminal syndicates, some Myanmar nationals have been engaged in antisocial activities in this country.
The military’s campaign has driven tens of thousands of people to the coast. Bangladeshi boatmen, in their hundreds, are going to pick them up. Mostly by night, the wooden crescent-shaped boats that normally ply the fishing grounds of the Bay of Bengal make the journey across the 5.7-km (3.6 mile) mouth of the Naf river that separates Myanmar and Bangladesh. The 5-metre boats are loaded with as many as 50 people and their belongings.
The government of Myanmar has continued to block the access of aid agencies to Rakhine State. By blocking access for humanitarian organisations, Myanmar’s authorities have put tens of thousands of people at risk and shown a callous disregard for human life.
The United States has already acknowledged the burden on Bangladesh as it shelters hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people fleeing persecution in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. It is a difficult situation for Bangladesh, as is for any other country, to absorb refugees. Everyone recognises that Bangladesh has taken on the largest burden of the neighbouring states dealing with the Rohingya crisis. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is scheduled to go to Cox’s Bazar on Tuesday to visit Rohingyas in camp who fled from Myanmar to save lives in the military operation. The Prime Minister will visit the Rohingya refugee camp on September 12, 2017 in Kutupalong, Ukhia. During this time she will take a look at the helpless Rohingyas. She also urged the international community to mount pressure on Myanmar to stop pushing its nationals into Bangladesh and take back Rohingya refugees. Bangladesh has given shelter to the Myanmar refugees on humanitarian ground and hosting a huge number of Myanmar refugees in Bangladesh is a big burden for the country.
The Rohingyas have been subjected to communal violence by extremist Buddhists for years, forcing large groups of Muslims to take perilous journeys and seek refuge in Bangladesh and other neighbouring countries. Over the past year, military operations on Rohingya villages have been so intense and cruel that the minority’s defenders have warned of an unfolding genocide. The United Nations has reported that the army may have committed ethnic cleansing.
The inhumane treatment of the Rohingyas has tarnished the image of Myanmar’s civilian leader and Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, once a famously unflinching defender of human rights and darling of the West. She now faces international fury, particularly from Muslim nations, for failing to stand up to armed forces chief General Min Aung Hlaing, whose soldiers are accused of rape, murder, arson, and of ripping Rohingya babies from their mothers’ arms and throwing them into rivers and fire.
Myanmar’s policy towards the Rohingyas is inhumane and unacceptable. Its government should look at history and take note that high-handedness as a state policy is unviable in the long run. Hate, prejudice and racism are evils that always find new victims. Today it is the Rohingyas. Who will be the next? It is the Myanmar government which created the Rohingya problem and it is solely its responsibility to find a lasting solution to it.
The writer is an Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration, Jagannath University, Dhaka