Once Stateless, Now Homeless
By VRINDA GUPTA | October 3, 2017
Brutal attacks in Myanmar against the Rohingya Muslim minority have claimed the lives of over a thousand people, with scores forced to seek refuge in neighboring countries. The community has been at risk for decades, and their poor treatment has compelled human rights groups to question the standards of humanity present in the country. The Burmese military has been directly accused of setting fire to the villages and homes of the Rohingya people, causing Amnesty International and the United Nations to brand the government for “ethnic cleansing.” The Burmese government has denied all accusations, claiming that the Rohingya people are burning their own homes.
The Rohingya Muslims represent the largest group of stateless people in the world. They have had a troubled, violent history and have even been denied citizenship in their home country Myanmar since 1982, on the pretext that the people are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Despite their large minority in the Rakhine State, they are not recognized as an ethnic group and have limited rights regarding movement, education, and property. Buddhists, the majority in the country, have been growing with ultra-nationalist calls for resistance against the Rohingya people in recent years.
In late August, nine police officers were killed along the border in the state of Rakhine, causing a massive investigation that blamed a Rohingya militant group for the attack. A crackdown ensued with soldiers killing, arresting, and allegedly conducting other human right abuses. Widespread discrimination against the Rohingyas, along with the alleged crime, created a dangerous situation for the minority, to say the least. They were forced to undergo risky paths to flee to the neighboring country, Bangladesh.
This issue is certainly not expected from a country whose head of government also happens to be a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Aung San Suu Kyi is a democracy icon, who won the first open election in Myanmar in twenty-five years in a landslide victory. Astonishingly, she has said little about the current violence raging in the western parts of her nation. After international criticism swelled over Suu Kyi’s lack of action, she finally took to the stage and seemed to defend her military’s actions. This instance indicates the true power balance in the country, where the military is still said to oversee security and other powerful ministries. Some may even say that the small accusation from the de-facto leader can pave the way for another Burmese military coup d'état. Yet, others credit Suu Kyi’s relative silence to the complexity of the long brewing crisis. Fellow Nobel laureate and social rights activist Desmond Tutu wrote in an open letter to his close friend Suu Kyi that “if the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep.”
A large majority among the displaced Rohingya Muslim population is finding refuge in Bangladesh, arriving in poor and often near-fatal conditions. While the official policy of the country is disallow illegal entrants, ministry reports state that thousands have already entered the country and more are gathering at the border. Their movement here is restricted as well, and it is unlikely that the influx will continue due to the already highly dense occupancy in refugee camps.
India, which is further to the west, made its intentions clear when border guards used questionable methods to stop the Rohingya people from entering its eastern border. Earlier this week, India Home Minister Rajnath Singh called for the deportation those who did enter, citing reasons such as illegal methods of entry and alleged ties to militant groups in Pakistan. The Supreme Court is now determining the legality of this deportation of nearly 40,000 people. Simultaneously, India has been regularly sending relief materials to Bangladesh for displaced families, including a naval ship with 900 tonnes of relief material. India seems to have a security issue with the presence of Rohingyas in the nation, but a moral issue with the current state of affairs in the Rakhine state in Myanmar.
One could imagine that more action would be taken when an entire population is forced to leave a country because their homes are being burnt and their rights curtailed. The government of Myanmar has been internationally condemned for remaining verbally and effectively silent during the humanitarian crisis taking place under their watch. Presently, Bangladesh seems to be the only country sheltering the Rohingya Muslims, along with large contributions of aid from Turkey and India. Of course, significantly more active roles of involvement from close nations are necessary to prevent the world from failing this already persecuted group of people.