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Rohingya issue spreading beyond Myanmar

Publication Date : 09-08-2012

 

Only Myanmar can solve the longstanding crisis besetting their Muslim minority Rohingya population. The International community should also exert pressure forcefully on Myanmar to bring an end to the decades old oppression on Rohingyas.

When it is beyond any doubt that a permanent solution to the Rohingya problem rests in the hands of Myanmar, surprisingly some international quarters are pressurising Bangladesh to open its border for Rohingyas and arrange their safe sheltering.

Foreign powers' efforts of making Rohingya crisis an issue for Bangladesh seem an attempt to impose a problem on Bangladesh which is an inherent responsibility of Myanmar.

None except the Myanmar government created this crisis through oppression carried out against a vulnerable minority Rohingya population.

Rohingya is a centuries old minority Muslim population of Myanmar but "stateless" for the last several decades as Myanmar's 1982 Citizenship Act undid the status of legally granted citizenship in 1948.

Such a condition apparently led to state-sponsored persecutions that prompted several hundred thousands of Rohingyas from the Rakhine state to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh in 1978 and later in 1991. Bangladesh arranged temporary shelters on both the occasions on humanitarian grounds, but the crisis has continued. As the humanitarian aspect was the overriding factor in extending help to the Rohingyas, political elements in it were overlooked in Bangladesh.

In June this year, when there was sectarian violence between the Buddhist Rakhine and Muslims in Myanmar, the international community asked Bangladesh to open its border for the Rohingyas instead of pressurising Myanmar to solve the problem internally. The pressure is still on.

Last week, Robert O. Blake, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs of United States said that they were disappointed by Bangladesh's policy of turning away Rohingyas fleeing ethnic and sectarian violence in Myanmar since early June. Blake said: "The US government has and will continue to raise concern for the well being of these individuals at the highest levels."

Giving temporary shelter to Rohingyas in Bangladesh cannot be a permanent solution to the problems originating in Myanmar; rather it creates more problems in densely populated Bangladesh that has been hosting 30,000 registered Rohingya refugees since 1991 and about half a million illegal Rohingya immigrants.

The Rakhine state of Myanmar, which borders Cox's Bazar, is a poverty-prone area of Myanmar. This fact forces the Rohingyas to migrate to Bangladesh for economic reasons. This continuous intrusion of Rohingyas has an alarming impact on socio-economic equilibrium of Cox's Bazar, but this fact is overlooked due to the longstanding issue of oppression on Rohingyas.

Such a crisis creates opportunities for all sorts of political powers across the world to use it as a tool for their own interests rather than trying for permanent solutions to the problems.

A few days ago, Pakistani Taliban reportedly threatened to attack Myanmar to avenge crimes against the Muslim Rohingya if Pakistan did not sever all relations with the Myanmar government and close its embassy in Islamabad. Thus, it seems that the Rohingya issue is spreading beyond national boundaries.

Bangladesh gained appreciation from the international community and foreign powers for its humanitarian response to the crises in 1978 and 1991. But, this time it has disappointed some foreign players as the government is sticking to its decision of not letting in any more Rohingya, as the ground realities don't permit more refugees.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in an interview with a foreign television channel, said that Bangladesh was already an overpopulated country so it was not possible to take in any more Rohingya.

This correspondent, while visiting Tekanf last month, felt the dilemma -- humanity versus reality. Local Bangladeshis have sympathies for the Rohingyas but, considering the realities, they believe allowing more Rohingyas will add to the burden in this small country.

This will not solve the real problem, rather it will create further problems here and those who are concerned about the Rohingyas should go where the problem has its roots. They think that pressure from international community highlights their ignorance about Bangladesh's reality.

Such pressure carries little weight because the international community is making not making any effort to force Myanmar to address the problems.

When there was a crisis in Rakhine state of Myanmar following clashes between Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya, Myanmar's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was visiting Europe to receive her Nobel Peace Prize awarded 20 years ago.

When there were high expectations that Suu Kyi would take a firm stand for the persecuted Rohingyas during her Europe trip, she rather refrained from making any statements for a permanent solution to the Rohingya crisis in her country.

Rather, one of her comments to the press in late June gave a hint that the lingering issue of citizenship of the Rohingyas will continue as she said it was imperative to ascertain who among the Rohingyas were legal citizens and who were not.

"Some of them, I'm sure, are in accordance with the citizenship laws, entitled to the rights of citizens, but we have to find out who they are," said Suu Kyi at the end of her Europe tour, which doesn't give confidence to those who believe that she can play a stronger role to solve the Rohingya's rights problem.

Myanmar would send them away if any third country accepts them, Myanmar President Thein Sein said to the chief of the United Nations refugee agency and added: "This is what we are thinking is the solution to the issue." This makes the minority community extremely vulnerable.

"Basically Myanmar does not consider these 7,35,000 Muslims in northern Rakhine state to be its citizens, and we think the solution is for them to get citizenship of Myanmar," UNHCR's Asia spokeswoman Kitty McKinsey made this comment to a foreign news agency immediately after the Myanmar president's alarming remarks.

But if this remark by the Myanmar president is not considered as the last wake up call for the international community to ensure due recognition of Rohingyas in their country, this longstanding crisis might never end.

Amnesty International recently called on Myanmar's Parliament to amend or repeal the 1982 Citizenship Law to ensure that Rohingyas were no longer stateless.

"Under international human rights law and standards, no one may be left or rendered stateless. For too long Myanmar's human rights record has been marred by the continued denial of citizenship for Rohingyas and a host of discriminatory practices against them," said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International's Myanmar researcher.

The writer is head of The Daily Star's Investigative Reporting Cell.

 

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