Rohingya Crisis: Prompt Resolution A Must
Myanmar and Bangladesh have recently made an agreement for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh. The Rohingya refugees are living in makeshift camps in Bangladesh after fleeing Myanmar in the face of growing violence against them. The Rohingya are stateless Muslim people confined to Rakhine state in Myanmar. There were around one million Rohingya in Myamar before the 2016-17crisis that forced tens of thousands of them to cross over to Bangladesh and other countries.
It is reported that over 620,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh and other countries since late August this year, when the Rohingya rebels killed 12 security men in attacks on their security posts, in response to which the security forces of Myanmar resorted to violent action against the Rohingya. They were brutally persecuted: rapes, killings, burnings alive and other inhuman violence became the order of the day. What is more, even their houses were burnt down so that they could not live in Myanmar.
In fact, the Rohingya are one of the most persecuted people in the world. They have been subjected to violence for long. The military crackdown on them in 1978, 1991-92, 2012, 2015 and 2016-17 speaks volumes for their plight.
The Myanmar’s government does not recognise the Rohingya as one of the eight national races, although the latter assert that they are indigenous people of western Myanmar, tracing their provenance to the 18th century. However, the government prefers to call them Bengalis rather than Rohingya, thinking that they are illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Till the late 20th century, the Rohingya had access to Parliament. When the Myanmar Nationality Law was introduced in 1982, they were considered illegal migrants and denied Myanmarese citizenship, rendering them stateless. The provisions in the law are such that there is an off chance for the Rohingya to obtain citizenship of Myanmar. They have been so grossly discriminated against that they have no freedom of movement and are denied state education and civil service jobs.
Since 2015, over 900,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh and other countries, a figure that cannot be passed up so easily. It is reported that a few Rohingya fled even to our country but timely alertness on the part of the Nepali government has prevented their further movement into the country. The bitter experience with having to cope with the Bhutanese refugees is still rankling in the minds of the Nepalese. What is more, over 100,000 Rohingya have been living in camps in Myanmar as internally displaced people since the violence that erupted in 2012.
The Rohingya issue reminds us of the Bhutanese refuges, who landed in eastern Nepal in the 1990s. The number of the Bhutanese refugees was just over 100,000, compared to which the number of Rohingya refugees is far larger. Most of the Bhutanese refugees are now living in the USA and European and other countries. There are still many Bhutanese refugees living in camps, waiting to be sent somewhere to lead a dignified life.
The Rohingya are mostly Muslims. Some are Hindus. They have been facing persecution at the hands of the ultra-nationalist Buddhists and Myanmarese security forces. Persecution against them has raised concern all over the world. The international community, including the United Nations, has raised grave concern over the Rohingya crisis. One of the main sticking points is that the Buddhists cannot live together with the Rohingya. The Buddhists also consider them illegal immigrants and want them to be sent to Muslim countries.
However, there is now a pact in place on the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh. As per the pact, 700,000 Rohingya, who have fled to Bangladesh since October 2016, will be considered for repatriation. This will still leave hundreds of thousands of the Rohingya stranded in Bangladesh. Those Rohingya who had fled earlier than October 2016 will be considered separately after the present arrangement has been accomplished.
There are, however, concerns about the safety of the Rohingya after they have been repatriated to Myanmar. They have no houses to live in; their houses have been burnt down by the Myanamarese security forces during the violence that ensued after the security forces launched clearance operations in response to the attacks of the Rohingya rebels on the security posts.
According to Bangladesh, after repatriation the Rohingya refugees will be sheltered in temporary camps in Myanmar. But the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is of the opinion that before repatriating the Rohingya, their ‘informed consensus’ must be taken. It is not clear where the Rohingya will be placed but they prefer to live in Rakhine state or nearby places with full security.
It is not certain whether the Rohingya will be treated on a par with other Myanmarese after they have been repatriated to Myanmar. For how long they will have to remain in temporary shelters is still dicey. It is also doubtful whether the Myanmarese government will build houses as replacements for their burnt-down homes for them to live in. As long as the Rohingya are disenfranchised by denying them Myanmarese citizenship, repression against them may persist for years to come. The Rohingya crisis has been simmering for long. In 1992, Bangladesh and Myanmar made a similar repatriation agreement, under which as many as 200,000 Rohingya refugees returned to Myanmar but the problems, including citizenship, have remained unresolved till now.
The Myanmarese government has faced grim brickbats over the Rohingya crisis. It has been accused of committing crime against humanity, ethnic cleansing or genocide so as to wipe out the Rohingya population from Myanmar. Just taking back the Rohingya refugees will not solve the crisis. They should be provided with shelter and means of livelihood. Now, they are both homeless and stateless. In this modern age, no people should be rendered stateless under the policy of apartheid or ethnic cleansing.
The Rohingya crisis has also landed Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate, in the soup. Suu Kyi should also take the initiative in collaborating with the Myanmarese government to enable the Rohingya to live a dignified life. This will ennoble not only Suu Kyi but also the Myanmarese government in the eyes of the international community.