Envisage you were refused ‘identity’ as a human being. Refused a place that you call home. Denied basic civil rights. Denied rights to profess your own religion, work at the workplace of your choice, to get married to a person of your own choice. Your ability to gain citizenship in your own motherland is prohibited. Do you think you would be able to live a life like this? No, and the Muslim Rohingya agree with you.
Millions of indigenous Muslim Rohingya have decided to abandon their home country of Myanmar due to the ongoing conflict their ethnicity is embroiled in. It is undeniable that the Rohingya have been residing in Myanmar for centuries. But are still seen by most of the people in the country as ‘illegitimate citizens’. There are around a few million Rohingya Muslims that have made Buddhist dominated - Myanmar their home, just like the countless other ethnicities. This increasing conflict has occurred due to the prejudiced protocol and policies of the Myanmar government. A large number of Rohingya Muslims have been absconding since 2015, and the number keeps increasing every day. Myanmar’s neighbors too are apprehensive about letting in these refugees.
The Rohingya are a particular ethnic Muslim minority, who have been residing in the Western Rakhine state of Myanmar. They differ from Myanmar’s dominant Buddhist groups from most aspects; religious, social and linguistic. They speak a Bengali dialect. Almost all the Rohingya live in Rakhine, they dwell in ghetto-like camps which they can’t leave unless they have the government’s permission. Since Myanmar attained Independence in the year 1948, the successive governments have denied them ethnicity recognition and citizenship as one of Myanmar’s 135 ethnic groups. According to a blog on the Council on Foreign Relations, Ko Ko Gyi, a longtime democracy activist and former political prisoner, commented in 2012 that “Rohingya are not one of the ethnic groups of Myanmar at all….genetically, culturally and linguistically, Rohingya are not absolutely related to any ethnicity in Myanmar.” [ I ]
The Myanmar government and the dominant Buddhist ethnic group the Rakhine have renounced the usage of the word ‘Rohingya’ as it provides the group with a collective and political identity. [ II ]
Life for the Rohingya is extremely perilous. Both, in their motherland and on stranger tides. A report in Amnesty International talks about Yasmin, an endemic Rohingya woman who was compelled to leave her native land along with her children. They are ambushed in a tiny room in Bangkok, living in perpetual angst of being seized by the Thai authorities. Is this what life for these people has come to? Fleeing a country, they’ve called their home and trying to seek asylum in the unknown? Like Yasmin, there are numerous women who are implicated in this dilemma. Taking that shot in the dark and continuing life in conflicted Rakhine or eluding to alien lands, where they are in constant fear of being deported back to where they came from.
According to the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Parliamentarians for Human Rights wrote in April 2015 that “The longstanding persecution of the Rohingya has led to the highest outflow of asylum seekers by sea [in the region] since the US War in Vietnam. The Rakhine state is one of the least developed states of the country. According to the World Bank, more than 78 percent of this state lives under poverty in languishing social conditions. Dilapidating infrastructure, acute poverty, lack of education and dearth of employment along with the intense religious discrepancies. The CFR also says that violence broke out in 2012, when a group of Rohingya men were accused of raping and murdering a Buddhist woman. Groups of Buddhist patrioteers burned Rohingya homes and displaced thousands of Buddhists. In most cases, they are absconding because the government of Myanmar is refusing to acknowledge their basic human rights and denying them citizenship of the state. Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law, (which permits citizenship only to three categories of Myanmarese; the Rohingya being ostracized) fabricating them stateless. As a consequence, their rights to access health and educational services propagate and practice their own religion, education , right to get married and right to work at the workplace of their choice.
The debilitated Rohingya are doing their best to seek refuge in neighboring countries. Lamentably, none of Myanmar’s neighbors been signatories of the 1951 Convention relating to the State of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol (that doesn’t make them juridically liable to take in or protect asylum seekers). An approximate 6,000 or possibly even more migrant are marooned at sea in South East Asia. The country of Indonesia has had a moderate number of Rohingya natives coming in. The military chief of Indonesia Gen. Moeldoko expressed his apprehension towards the arrival of refugees. According to him, opening the gates of Indonesia would create an inundation of natives pouring in the country. Rohingya refugees make up for a whopping more than 90 percent of Malaysia’s 150,700 refugees. Here too, they are deprived of their legal status and basic healthcare and employment. Thailand has dealt with this labyrinthine plight according to its own whims and ordinances. A report by Reuters discovered that Thai authorities were conniving with trafficking networks in exploitation of confined Rohingya Natives. Over 10,000 refugees have crossed the border and arrived at Bangladesh recently. According to government reports, at least 3, 00,000 – 5, 00,000 are living in Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi government permitted some refugees asylum on altruistic basis. Home Minister Assaduzzaman Khan Kamal said that, Bangladesh wanted the Rohingyas to return to Myanmar. He also mentioned that Bangladesh would speculate hosting them for as long as possible, and then attempt to get into conversation with Myanmar about taking them back. [II], [III]
Almost every adjoining country to Myanmar has been reluctant to let the Rohingya into their soil. In some cases, boats overcrowded with natives have been turned back. The leaders are apprehensive about how this social and religious predicament will affect their country. But at the same time, it wouldn’t be appropriate to accuse these countries of not taking in any refugees at all. The numbers might be petty compared to the substantial number of refugees, but they aren’t negligible.
This whole dispute has been illustrated in two completely divergent ways; the military of Myanmar refers to this as “clearance operations” whilst the UN refers to it as “ethnic cleansing”. Fifteen Noble laureates and eight global leaders have written an open letter to the United Nations Security Council to arbitrate to “stop the persecution of Rohingya in Myanmar.” [IV]
The United States, and other nations have urged authorities in Myanmar to take an extra step towards ending the extreme torture towards the Rohingya, otherwise it will lose its stature in the worldly society. Denying these people refuge rights would render them homeless, but then for how long will countries sustain asylum? The government of Myanmar is under obligation to resolve its internal dilemmas for the impact it might have on the rest of the world. The most trivial thing the authorities can aim for is granting citizenship to natives, which can at least aim at helping them get a life, one that has a glimmer of hope.
But with Myanmar’s slow transition from an oppressive military junta to an elected democracy, the glimmer of hope seems hazy. The sluggish metamorphosis just translates into more violations of human rights. The government is nothing but a puppet of the military. The military has considerable power over the parliament and the government. Every decision and resolution the government makes, it has to incessantly look over its shoulder. [V]
In an age of globalization, concerns over human rights have transcended national boundaries. Human right to life is one of basic sustenance. It is an ingrained part of our global culture, not as nations, but by our very normative existence as humans. If the world is to know peace, the plight of these helpless migrants cannot go unheard!
[ I ] : Eleanor Albert, The Rohingya Migrant Crisis ;
[ II ] : IBID
[ III ] : Scott Neuman, Why No One Wants The Rohingyas ;
[ IV ] : Paul Chambers, Thailand Must End It’s Own Rohingya Atrocity ;
[ V ] : Anders Corr, Sanction Myanmar And Give The Rohingyas A State Of Their Own ;
[ VI ] : Unknown, Myanmar Country Profile ;
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