Opinion: Rohingyas–internally disowned persons

Mohsin Raza Malik: Rohingyas, the people from a Muslim ethnic group in the Rakhine province of Myanmar (Burma), have aptly been described as ‘the most persecuted minority in the world’ by the UN. The way they are being persecuted is simply unprecedented in the recent world history. First, they were instantly reduced to the status of a stateless nation by the Burmese government through some arbitrary and inhumane citizenship laws. Thus they were made aliens in their own country. For a long time, they have been bitterly persecuted by country’s Buddhist majority group. At present, they are facing a full-fledged state-sponsored ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Myanmar. So now these stateless and homeless Rohingyas are helplessly trying to find a refuge in various Southeast Asian countries.

No municipal or international law has yet determined or otherwise defined their status on this planet. Completely denying basic citizenship rights to them, Myanmar’s 1982 citizenship law reduced the status of the Rohingya population to ‘stateless entities’. Ever since, they have been living in apartheid-like conditions in Myanmar. It is quite unfortunate that, despite having lived in Burma for generations, the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have yet not been formally naturalized by the Myanmar government. This practice is absolutely inconsistent with the recognized rules of naturalization in the contemporary civilized world.

For the first time, Rohingyas received international public attention in the wake of 2012 Rakhine state riots. Following theses riots, a lot of Rohingya people fled to ghettos and makeshift refugee camps near the border of neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Thailand. Later, in order to escape systematic persecution from both the Myanmar government and Buddhist majority, thousands of Rohingyas fled from Myanmar to seek shelter in other Southeast Asian countries, namely Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, in small rickety boats through the Strait of Malacca and the Andaman Sea.

During the 2015 Rohingya refugee crisis, the world community just observed the plight of these ‘boat people’. They were treated as if they were some extra-terrestrial species from an alien planet. Carrying these ‘alien creatures’, their ‘Unidentified Sailing Objects’ continued to wander aimlessly in international waters for months. And no country seemed to be inclined to accept them. Indeed it was a great tragedy that a Rohingya Muslim couldn’t get any place in the world even as a refugee – which is considered the worst status on earth in terms of the humanitarian miseries necessarily associated with it. Refugees are generally identified or categorised as IDPs, international refugees, international migrants etc. Ironically, the Rohingya refugee crisis just introduced another novel description of a refugee – one who is just helplessly stranded at sea.

The miseries and sufferings of Rohingyas have constantly been multiplying ever since the 2012 Rakhine state riots. This crisis further intensified as soon as the Myanmar military lunched a massive crackdown on unfortunate Rohingya people in October last year. So, having joined hands with radical Buddhists and ‘monk militias’, the Burmese security forces have conducted a systematic and coordinated campaign of arson, killing and rape against these people. Recently, a senior UN official also accused Myanmar of carrying out ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Rohingya Muslims by killing them or forcing them to flee to Bangladesh.

Some 70 thousand Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh to escape persecution since October last year. So the refuges crisis in Bangladesh will deepen, as there are already more than 300,000 Rohingyas that have arrived there during the last couple of years. This massive influx of unattended refugees is very likely to trigger an instant humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh.

The incumbent Myanmar government has turned a blind eye to helpless Rohingya Muslims who are being victimised and persecuted by security forces as well as radical Buddhists with impunity. Sadly, all this is being done under the very nose of Myanmar’s de facto head of government Aung San Suu Kyi, who is also a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. UN officials and independent world media have been denied access to the affected Rakhine state by the government. Similarly, last month, the Myanmar government also objected to the intended Malaysian aid for the helpless Rohingya people. This shows that the Myanmar government is hardly interested in rescuing or rehabilitating the affected Rohingyas in the country.

It is quite regrettable that individuals like Pope Francis have strongly condemned the atrocities committed against Rohingya Muslims but no significant Muslim world leader, except the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, has ever bother to raise their voice against Rohingya persecution in Myanmar. Presently the so-called Muslim ummah is quite indifferent to the miseries of these oppressed and stranded Muslims. The OIC, the official ‘mouthpiece’ of the Islamic world, has also maintained complete silence over this issue so far. The international media, especially the electronic media, has also failed to truly highlight the intensity of the suffering of this suppressed community.

Despite knowing the nature and magnitude of the current humanitarian crisis in Myanmar, the UN has done nothing significant beyond paying lip service to this issue. The UN General Assembly has passed a consensus resolution urging Myanmar to provide full citizenship to its Rohingya Muslim minority and to allow them to move freely throughout the country. Similarity, the UN has also asked the Southeast Asian countries to respect international law while dealing with the Rohingya migrants. However, in the absence of the required degree of resolution and commitment to resolve this crisis, all these half-hearted efforts have failed to achieve desired objectives.

Presently Bangladesh is a country that is hosting the maximum number of Rohingya refugees among all the South Asian countries. Reportedly, the Bangladesh government is considering relocating these refuges to a vulnerable and inhospitable island in the Bay of Bengal. This island is a haven for pirates and is inundated during the monsoon. The world community should help Bangladesh rehabilitate these refugees through some pragmatic plans.

Since the Myanmar government has ignored altogether the UN General Assembly Resolution to grant citizenship right to its Rohingya population, the UN Security Council must now proceed against Myanmar under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The UN should ensure the security and settlement of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar by effectively applying its coercive enforcement apparatus. In the past, the international community had forced the apartheid regime in South Africa to end its discriminatory policy of racial segregation against the black people in the country. The UN should exert maximum pressure on the incumbent Myanmar government to make it abandon its current policy of ‘ethnic-cleansing’ and religious segregation’ against the Rohingya Muslims. The world community should also come forward to put an end to the miseries of these internationally ignored and internally disowned persons.

Mohsin Raza Malik is a lawyer.

The article originally appeared in Al Bilad English Daily

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