This is not the first time that Rohingyas have been targeted. According to Medecins Sans Frontieres, approximately 200,000 Rohingyas were expelled to neighboring Bangladesh in 1978, but almost all of them were forcibly repatriated back: about 10,000 died in the process and another 10,000 remained in Bangladesh. In 1982 Myanmar passed a law declaring most Rohingyas non-citizens. In 1991, again about 250,000 were pushed to Bangladesh. In September 1992 the government of Bangladesh closed down registration of new refugees, and immediately resorted to another round of repatriation. However, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and a number of other international humanitarian bodies strongly protested against the measure. Since then the UNHCR has negotiated with the government of Myanmar to repatriate back the refugees but it has succeeded only partially. Occasionally many of the repatriated refugees would return to Bangladesh. During this period many Rohingyas also migrated to a number of Southeast Asian and West Asian and North African (WANA) countries. But generally speaking, Rohingyas remain stateless people and according to one UN report they are “one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.”
The current influx of Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh began when a rumor was spread that a Buddhist Rakhine woman was raped and murdered by three Rohingyas and a number of Rakhines attacked a bus carrying Muslim passengers in early June. Violence spread rapidly and hundreds and thousands of Rohingyas began to flee. Rakhine thugs seem to enjoy the tacit support of the law enforcement agencies. The Myanmar government has banned the media in the area. Neighboring Bangladesh also took a stubborn stand by not only preventing the refugees from entering the country, but also by not allowing the media to interview the refugees. The upshot of it all is a humanitarian disaster.
According to one analysis the origin of the current conflict may lie much deeper in the geo-politics of the area. China reportedly has invested heavily in the area and enemies of China are trying to destabilize the situation in order to weaken the country’s economic role in Myanmar. This is part of a larger agenda to thwart China’s economic ascendancy. (see landdestroyer.blogspot.com/2012/06/new-front-myanmers-role-in-geopolitics.html)
What is shocking in this whole episode is the stand taken by the country’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. She doesn’t seem to have been moved at all by this unprecedented humanitarian crisis. Another shocking phenomenon is the statement by the US Charge d’ Affairs in Myanmar who praised the government’s role in the crisis. Has the international community lost its conscience?
What should be done to overcome the crisis? Violence should stop immediately. The state government in Rakhine and the central government under Thein Sein have a big role to play in this. The law should be applied without bias and wrongdoers should be punished, regardless of their ethnicity or religion. At the same time, Thein Sein should initiate measures to grant citizenship to the Rohingyas.
Myanmar’s fellow ASEAN states should quietly encourage Thein Sein to move in this direction.
Dr. Abdullah Ahsan,
International Movement for Just World (JUST).
Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.
26 June 2012.