The current Rohingya crisis went from bad to worse on 25th August 2017 when insurgent Rohingya group attacked 30 police post and an army base in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. They killed more than 15 security people. Muslim militant group The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) claimed responsibility for this attack. This incident prompted Myanmar’s government, and they started “Clearance Operations” against Rohingya rebels. Hundreds of Rohingyas were killed, thousands of their homes burned, looted and scattered in this operation.
However, Myanmar government confirmed that the security operation ended on 5th September, but burning and looting of Muslim villages are continued. 75% Rohingya of The Rathedaung township have fled. Around 5 Lacs Rohingya displaced from central Rakhine in Myanmar. More than 200 Rohingya villages have been burned.
Consequently, thousands of Rohingya infiltrated to Bangladesh, India, and Thailand. More than six lacs Rohingya refugee have moved so far from Myanmar to Bangladesh in which 87000 fled from last one year. And still, it continues. A wobbly boat overburdened with about 100 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar overturned in the Naaf river, near Bangladesh, killing at least 12, mostly children while many went missing on 8th October 2017.
The UK Government termed the Rohingya crisis is an unacceptable tragedy. The United Nation Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, called the crisis as “World’s fastest developing refugee emergency.” He termed it as humanitarian and human rights nightmare. To understand the Rohingya issue in detail, we need to go in the history of the conflict, their identity, the present refugee crisis and India’s role as a regional power.
Identity of Rohingya People
The Rohingya people are an Indo-Aryan people from Rakhine state, Myanmar. The majority of Rohingya are Muslim minority. They speak a dialect close to Chittagong version of Bengali. Around 11 lacs Rohingya was residing in Myanmar before infiltration. Mostly reside in the Rakhine (previously called Arakan) state of Myanmar along the border with Bangladesh and India. The Rohingya is not among the 135 officially recognized ethnic group of the country. They have not been granted their citizenship in Myanmar under the 1982 Myanmar nationality law. And that’s why they are facing cute discrimination. They have restricted from freedom of movement, state education, civil service job and other government benefits.
Myanmar government is not considering them the citizen of Myanmar despite their considerable population. They are referring them as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. The government has not recognized them as Rohingya. They are calling the community of Bengalis.
Rohingya call themselves the natives of Arakan, descendants of the Arab merchants who settled in Arakan in the 7th-8th century. It is believed that Arakan was an independent kingdom which shared a permeable border with Chittagong (Bangladesh) along Naaf river. The Arakanese rulers from 13th-16th century had deep political, economic and cultural ties with the Bengal Sultanate and held Islamic titles, employed Muslims officials in the court and adopted Mughal fashion.
Historical Identity of Rohingya
The British during their colonial rule effectuated the migration of farm labor from India and Bangladesh, most of whom were from Chittagong. The Rohingya language also resembles Chittagonian to a great extent. It was done to suppress a local revolt by the Burmese. The Burmese nationalists saw the immigrants, on the side of the British and brewing resentment, grew to the point that in 1942, a violent conflict broke between the Buddhists and the Arakanese Muslims.
We can grasp from this that Rohingya is a complex ethnic identity, developed along the frequent movement in history, to and fro from Chittagong to Arakan. It thus acquired a fluidity in practices and multiplicity of cultural roots. This multiplicity is perceived by the Buddhists as a fabricated religious identity by actual ‘Bengalis’ while the Rohingyas claim nativity as descendants of Arabs.
Myanmar got independence in 1948. The Arakanese Muslims started demanding a separate state for themselves, influenced by the birth of Pakistan. The government suppressed them with an iron hand, eventually denying them citizenship rights, calling them ‘Bengali immigrants’ and turning them ‘stateless.’ The Union Citizenship Act gave recognition to 135 ethnic groups within Myanmar, but not to Rohingya ethnicity. Their condition worsened post the military coup in 1962. Systematically deprived of their political rights now, Rohingyas were declared ‘foreigner’ as per the Citizenship Law of 1982 and disenfranchised in 1990.
Rohingya Refugee – A concern for Humanity
Around 10 lakh people have been displaced to other countries while about 1.5 lakh stand internally displaced since the ‘ethnic cleansing’ began in Myanmar in 1970’s. Bangladesh has about 30,000 registered while it claims to have about 7 lakh unregistered refugees staying within its borders. India has registered about 14,000 refugees while claims to have 40,000 unregistered ones.
UN Spokesman Farhan Haq termed the Rohingya infiltration as the largest mass refugee movement in the region in decades. Around 60% of the refugees are children, and they are not getting their basic education.
The world saw thousands of Rohingya stranded in the sea trying to find land in Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia who inhumanely sent the hungry and tired souls back into the sea without any aid. It was a horrific visual imagery depicting the empty rhetoric of the civilized world. The business of human traffickers has been flourishing, and the vulnerable population is caught within their clutches, depositing their life savings to get converted into ‘boat people’ to find better prospects for them and their families.
They live in dilapidated camps, with no food, shelter, medical care, sanitation or clean water. The women, children and elderly are suffering the most due to their frailty. Around 5 Lacs Rohingya refugees have still no adequate shelter and safe drinking water. Their condition worsened due to heavy rains and floods.
The UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, warns that Rohingya crisis is a growing ground for radicalization, Criminals, and risks creating international tension. He requested to UN agencies and Non-government organizations to come forward to humanitarian aid to these Rohingya refugees.
Aung San Suu Kyi – A Loss of Hope
The leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. She was the campaigner for democracy against military rule in Myanmar. She kept under house arrest for 15 years. And, that’s the reason, she was considered the global human rights icon. But her silence on Rohingya violence has disappointed the human right wings, and that’s why they demanded to revoke her Nobel prize.
Her government has restricted global media access and foreign journalist to reach in Rakhine region. Even she didn’t allow to UN agencies to visit the Rohingya violent area and investigate this concern. Of course, Aung San Suu Kyi’s these steps can’t be considered as a progressive step for any democratic campaigner.
A serious threat to Bangladesh
Rohingya infiltration is a big concern across the 271-km boundary with Bangladesh. Bangladesh is facing an acute problem as five lacs Rohingya refugees entered here in last three decades. The 81-km marine drive and Cox’s Bazar is the prime place for these refugees. The two biggest camps in Kutupalang, Nayapura, and Teknaf sub-districts have fully covered with Rohingya. Bangladesh has shown generous and humanitarian nature for Rohingya refugees.
But public anger against government and security concern is increasing day by day in Bangladesh. And that’s why they are pushing back them now in Myanmar.
Prime minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina visited the Bangladesh – Myanmar border on 12th September 2017 and met with Rohingya refugee in Kutupalang camp. He requested to Myanmar government to take back of Rohingya refugees staying in Bangladesh. She also asked the world community to come forward and put pressure on Myanmar government to provide a safe place for Rohingya to live in Myanmar.
Indian Concern on Rohingya Muslims
The ugly head of terrorism that has propped up as groups like Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) with links to Al Qaeda and Saudi based terrorists and that’s why India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh refused to impart shelter to Rohingya within Indian boundary, terming them ‘illegal immigrants’ and a security threat. In a case registered by two Rohingya refugees in India against deportation by the government to Myanmar, the Supreme Court has advised both parties to restrain from an emotional appeal and instead provide documents and conventions which support their respective claims. The government has also challenged the very jurisdiction of Supreme Court in a matter concerning non-citizens.
As India is not a signatory to 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, it is not bound to give asylum to refugees which prohibits sending the refugees back to the same place from where they escaped saving their life. On a moral ground, India has employed the Indian Air Force to deliver humanitarian aid to the refugee camps in Bangladesh.
The international community criticized PM Modi’s visit to Myanmar in early September as while offering support to the Myanmar government to deal with the ‘extremists.’ He failed to mention the saga of the persecuted minority. The refugee influx has become a grave concern for Bangladesh where reports of conflict between Rohingya and residents are rising, and it expects India to play a significant role in the negotiations with Myanmar. It is a grave threat to India itself due to its closeness to the insurgency-affected northeastern part.
As a regional power and a member of the BIMSTEC along with Bangladesh and Myanmar, experts suggest that India should use its diplomatic offices to convince Myanmar to take back its people and reestablish them in Rakhine again. Blaming the problem only on Rohingya extremism without acknowledging the atrocious account of the military crackdown is not a viable solution.
World Helping Hand for Rohingya
A global response is very cooperative for Rohingya rehabilitation. Maldives announced to break trade ties with Myanmar and Malaysia recalled its ambassador in support of Rohingya. People protested in their support in the United Kingdom, Indonesia and the Russian Republic of Chechnya.
Under the pressure of the world community, the Aung San Suu Kyi government set up the Kofi Annan Commission to identify the prime issues of Rohingya concern. The commission listed out some issues like rights and equality before the law of Rohingya and their citizenship verification. The commission also suggested measures for Rohingya repatriation, and they should be executed by the government immediately. It prescribes that discriminatory ‘Citizenship law’ must be amended as the vulnerability of the Rohingya community makes them susceptible to radicalization which can pose a grave security threat to the whole region.