Rohingya Crisis-Internal Issue of Myanmar

Rohingyas are the stateless and  among the most persecuted people in the world. They belongs to Muslim ethnic-minority group who lived as a people in Myanmar for centuries and speak their own language, which isn’t recognised by the state. They have faced repression since the 1970s, but more intensively since 2011, when the government transformed from a military administration to a democratic administration.

Who Are The Rohingyas?

The Rohingya are often described as “the world’s most persecuted minority”. They are an ethnic group, majority of whom are Muslim, who have lived for centuries in the majority Buddhist Myanmar. Rohingya people say they are descendants of Muslims, perhaps Persian and Arab traders, who came to Myanmar generations ago.

Currently, there are about 1.1 million Rohingya who live in the Southeast Asian country. The Rohingya speak Rohingya or Ruaingga (similar to the Bengali dialect of Chittagong in Bangladesh), a dialect that is distinct to others spoken in Rakhine State (the western coastal state of Myanmar) and throughout Myanmar. They are not considered one of the country’s 135 official ethnic groups and have been denied citizenship in Myanmar since 1982, which has effectively rendered them stateless.

Where Are The Rohingyas From?

According to many historians and Rohingya groups, Muslims have lived in the area now known as Myanmar since as early as the 12th century. The Arakan Rohingya National Organisation has said that the Rohingyas have been living in Arakan from time immemorial, means referring to the area now known as Rakhine.

During the British rule (1824-1948), there was a significant amount of migration (internal migration) of labourers to the Myanmar from today’s India and Bangladesh. Because the British administered Myanmar was a province of British India.

According to the Human Rights Watch 2000 report, after independence, the Government of Myanmar viewed the migration that took place during British rule as ‘illegal’ and it is on this basis that they refuse citizenship to the majority of Rohingya. This has led many Buddhists to consider the Rohingya to be Bengali, rejecting the term Rohingya as a recent invention, created for political reasons.

What are the Issues with Rohingya?

After Myanmar’s independence from the British in 1948, the Union Citizenship Act was passed, defining which ethnicities could gain citizenship, but the Rohingya were not included. After the 1962 military coup in Myanmar, things changed dramatically for the Rohingya. They were only given foreign identity cards, which limited the jobs and educational opportunities they could pursue and obtain.

In 1982, a new citizenship law was passed, as a result of the law, the Rohingyas’ rights to study, work, travel, marry, practise their religion and access health services have been and continue to be restricted. The Rohingya cannot vote and even if they jump through the citizenship test hoops, they have to identify as “naturalised” as opposed to Rohingya, and limits are placed on them entering certain professions like medicine, law or running for office.

Crackdowns against Rohingyas

After the killings of nine border police in October 2016, troops started pouring into villages in Rakhine State. The government blamed what it called fighters from an armed Rohingya group. The killings led to a security crackdown on villages where Rohingya lived. During the crackdown, government troops were accused of an array of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killing, rape and arson. But Government of Myanmar denied all these allegations.

It was not the first time such an accusation has been made. In April 2013, Human Right Watch (HRW) said Myanmar was conducting a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya. Later in November 2016, a UN official accused the government of carrying out “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya. The government has consistently denied such accusations.

Most recently, Myanmar’s military has imposed a crackdown on the country’s Rohingya population after police posts and an army base were attacked in late August. Since the violence erupted, rights groups have documented fires burning in at least 10 areas of Myanmar’s Rakhine State. According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), more than 300,000 people have fled the violence, with thousands trapped in a no-man’s land between the two countries.

The Myanmar Government Opinion about the Rohingya

State Chancellor and the de facto leader of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi and her Government do not recognise the Rohingya as an ethnic group and have blamed violence in Rakhine due to them, and subsequent military crackdowns against them are called as “terrorists”.

At the time, the Government did not directly address the findings of the report and said it had the “the right to defend the country by lawful means” against “increasing terrorist activities”. The government has often restricted access to northern Rakhine States for journalists and aid workers. Aung San Suu Kyi’s office has also accused aid groups of helping those it considers to be “terrorists”. The country has also denied visas to members of a UN probe investigating the violence and alleged abuses in Rakhine.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate does not have control over the military but has been criticised for her failure to condemn indiscriminate force used by troops, as well as to stand up for the rights of the more than one million Rohingya in Myanmar.

The Government has set up a Commission and said it would abide by its findings. The Commission urged the Government to end the highly militarised crackdown on neighbourhoods where Rohingya live, as well as scrap restrictions on movement and citizenship. Following the release of the August report, the Government welcomed the Commission’s recommendations and said it would give the report “full consideration with the view to carrying out the recommendations to the fullest extent … in line with the situation on the ground”.

Rohingya’s Flee From Myanmar

Since the 1970s, a number of crackdowns on the Rohingya in Rakhine State have forced hundreds of thousands to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh, as well as Malaysia, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. According to the most recently available data from the United Nations, more than 168,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since 2012. According to the International Organisation for Migration, following violence that broke out last year, more than 87,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh from October 2016 to July 2017.

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), formerly known as the Al-Yaqeen Faith Movement. The group is considered a terrorist organisation by the Myanmar Government. But the ARSA added that it does not associate with any terrorist group across the world and does not commit any form of terrorism against any civilian/s regardless of their religious and ethnic origin. According to the International Crisis group, the ARSA has ties to Rohingya living in Saudi Arabia.

The International Community Response

The UN’s office of Human Rights has declared that the crisis in the South East Asian country could tantamount to crimes against humanity. In November 2016, the former chief of UN, Kofi Anan arrived in Myanmar with his team to look into the armed struggle, and was met by protesters who were against foreign intervention.

In Early December 2016, the Malaysian Prime Minister carried out a rally in protest against the torture of the Rohingyas, and said “the world cannot stand by and watch genocide taking place”. In November, protests also took place in Dhaka where about 5,000 Muslims congregated outside the Baitul Mokarram Mosque to denounce the military assault in Myanmar and the inaction of Su Kyi. They also demanded the Bangladesh Government to give refuge to the Rohingyas. Similar protests were held in Jakarta and Bangkok as well.

The assault on the Rohingyas has been fast gaining attention from Jihadists around the world, making the ground ripe for extremism. The West has been particularly wary about the possibility of a breeding ground for religious terrorism as a response to Myanmar’s brutality and has been urging neighbouring Muslim majority countries to strongly resist the repression of the Rohingyas.

Rohingya’s Refugee and Bangladesh

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called her own country’s economic migrants ‘mentally sick’ and said that they could have better lives in Bangladesh, and complained they were discrediting Bangladesh by leaving. Shortly thereafter, the Bangladeshi Government announced plans to relocate the 32,000 registered Rohingya refugees who have spent years in camps near the Myanmar border (the 200,000 unregistered other refugees were not officially part of the government’s relocation plan.

Initially, Thengar Char, an island 18 miles east of Hatiya Island was reportedly selected for the relocation. A subsequent report put the location as 200 hectares selected on Hatiya Island, a nine-hour, land-and-sea journey from the camps.

Mohammad Islam, a Rohingya leader living in one of the camps, asked the Bangladesh Government to reconsider, citing extensive suffering already endured by the displaced Rohingyas, and insisted that they want the Bangladeshi Government and international organisations to solve the Rohingya’s future while the remain the current camps. The UN refugee agency that has been aiding the camp refugees, since 1991, said such relocation would have to be voluntary if it is to succeed.

Rohingya’s Refugee and India

India refused to let the Rohingya refugees enter the Country, however later it was found that around 40,000 Rohingya’s immigrants have taken shelter in Assam, West Bengal and Jammu & Kashmir. However, the news created a dissatisfaction among general public that Muslims entertainment in Jammu will change the Demography of Hindu Majority Jammu and may lead to violence in the future by giving reference to the exodus of Kashmiri Pundits by Kashmiri Muslims earlier.

On September 7, 2017 Kiren Rijiju (Junior Home Minister of India) has said “All the Rohingya refugees are illegal immigrants and will be deported back.” He however refused to mention when, where and how they will be deported back. The statement invited criticism from United Nations on response Rijiju said “India have highest number of refugees in the entire world, hence India doesn’t need lecture on refugee crisis and Management “.

On Sept 10, 2017 in an official response Indian External Affairs Ministry on request of Government of Bangladesh asked Government of Myanmar to “act restraint” in the issue in Rakhine state.

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