Rohingyas- A Forgotten Tale
Rupreet Kaur Dhariwal, Student, Army Institute of Law, Mohali
While the nations around the globe are grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic, the Rohingya refugees are fighting an equally tough battle- one which might just extinguish their true identity from the history. Amidst all that is going around, has the world really forgotten the Rohingya refugees altogether? Often known as the most persecuted minorities in the world, the Rohingyas are the ethnic Muslims from the Rakhine state in Myanmar. The Rakhine state is the least developed region of Myanmar with most of its inhabitants living in adverse conditions, often below the poverty line. The lineage of the Rohingyas can be traced back to the 15th century. But, ever since the independence of Myanmar in 1948, the government has denied these people any rights and termed them as Illegal Bengali Immigrants.
The Rohingyas have endured a lot and have been constantly displaced from their own homeland. Bangladesh granted asylum to the maximum number of Rohingyas but in 2012, it chose to stop any assistance. With nowhere else to go, the Rohingyas decided to head towards Thailand but were unwelcome on their territory also. Countries like Malaysia and Indonesia also adopted the same policy and turned a blind eye towards these people.
Ever since, these people have become stateless and have been looking for a safe haven for their children. The Rohingyas have been through the worst, with their women and girls being raped and burnt, their houses being confiscated and their whole villages being burned down to the ground, the constant torture and murders. It is downright shocking that the world leaders and authorities have totally shut their eyes to the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis. In times like these, one realises that the International laws or treaties are in reality of no use, if they fail to protect the basic human rights.
Recent studies have highlighted that because of their constant displacement, the Rohingyas have been given the infamous title of the “boat people”. According to several reports, about 700,000 Rohingya men, women and children have fled their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine state since august 2017. A vicious cycle of discrimination, radicalization and violent repression has eventually led them to flee their homes. As a matter of fact, Warsan Shire’s words, “No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land”, are indeed spot on.
“No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land”
The United Nations has termed this killing of the Rohingya people as “ethnic cleansing”. Now what exactly is ethnic cleansing? It is defined as a “purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror inspiring means, the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas.” In the present scenario, the Myanmar military is allegedly attacking a Muslim minority (the Rohingyas) in a Buddhist majority country. The military is accused of burning down tens and tens of villages, where the Rohingyas live and these reports have been confirmed by the satellite images.
A Brief Timeline Of the Discrimination
This discrimination against the Rohingya dates back to more than 50 years ago. During World War II, the Rohingyas sided with the Britishers, who were then ruling Burma (Myanmar). While on other hand, the Burmese Buddhist sided with the Japanese invaders, hoping the Japanese will help in ending the British rule.
Then, in 1962, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) was taken over by the military in a coup and during this period of military rule, they got rid of the country’s constitution.
Subsequently, there was a wave of fierce nationalism fixated on the country’s Buddhist identity. Ultimately, they became intolerant towards the other ethnic groups and religions, and the Rohingyas were narrowed down as the common enemy. After more than a decade, the Burmese government under the socialist rule, carried out a military operation known as “Operation Dragon King or Nagamin”, which forced more than 200,000 Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh to save their lives.
Their anguish didn’t stop here as in 1982, the government passed a Citizenship Act, which recognised 135 ethnic communities in Myanmar, except the Rohingyas. The country where they’d been living for decades, refused to acknowledge them as their citizens and thus, they became stateless people.
The Myanmar military continued to harass the Rohingyas and in 1991, launched another campaign, literally called “Operation Clean & Beautiful Nation”. This operation took place in the northern Rakhine state and around 200,000 Rohingyas had to flee to Bangladesh or face death.
Tensions continued to build up in the following years but the last straw was drawn in 2012, when 4 Muslim men were accused of raping and killing a Buddhist woman in the Rakhine state. What followed was a series of violent attacks on the Rohingyas carried by the Buddhist nationals, backed by the security forces.
The recent spark of unrest occurred back in 2016, when some of the Rohingyas formed an “Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army” (ARSA) with the aim to defend and protect themselves. They co-ordinated small-scale attacks on the border police stations and on the ill-fated day of 25th August, 2017 twelve police officers were reportedly killed. A counter retaliation by the army followed up which in turn led to the death of more than 400 and the exodus of around 400,000 Rohingyas to Bangladesh.
The Current Scenerio
The de-facto head and the Nobel Prize winner, Aung San Suu Ky has barely acknowledged and rather mostly denied attacks on the Rohingyas. “More than 50% of the Muslim villages where the Rohingyas reside are intact”, said Suu Ky in a speech. There is intense nationalism fuelled racism in Myanmar against the Rohingyas. The government has not only denied them citizenship and stripped them off their basic rights but has also allegedly set up landmines on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border.
The refugees who’ve fled to Bangladesh live in the “Kutupalong Extension Site”, the world’s largest refugee camp. They aren’t allowed to move out of the camps and the Bangladeshi locals see them as unwanted people in their nation. These people are deprived of basic human rights, the rights which aren’t a luxury or a privilege but a means for survival. Furthermore, the Rohingya children are malnourished and are even denied the right to education. One may ask here, are they not entitled to a life like the other children around the world? Whose duty is it to protect their fragile and bleak future? Many continue to be vulnerable to abuse and exploitation and many are still battling the scars of past trauma and injury.
It is high time that the Myanmar government reaches a fair settlement, recognises and indeed protects these people. This is a very delicate issue and the authorities of Myanmar and Bangladesh along with the international community need to work on this together. More importantly, the refugees move back home when it is safe and secure for them to do so. But the Rohingyas can’t just return to the very conditions which forced them to flee in the first place.
It’s the responsibility of the government of Myanmar to come up inclusive policies, identify these Rohingyas as citizens of their country and provide a safe environment for their return. Lastly, it is indeed high time to put an end to the constant cycle fear and forced displacement of these vulnerable refugees.
It is surprising that even though the Rohingyas have been subjected to innumerable brutalities and discrimination, they haven’t given up hope. They still consider Myanmar, the country which refused to recognise them and stripped them off their citizenship, to be their homeland. There is a great yearning for them that one day, they will indeed be able to return back and be treated with equality. “God is great, Long Live Rohingya” is their slogan for this glimmer of hope.
The Rohingyas, despite facing every adversity that has come their way, haven’t given up and continue to dream of a better future. In the words of Khaled Hosseini, “Refugees are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, with the same hopes and ambitions as us—except that a twist of fate has bound their lives to a global refugee crisis on an unprecedented scale.” Hence, the onus now lies on the world, its leaders and every individual to not fail these Rohingyas but rather unite for the ones in the greatest need.
 Erin Blakemore, Who are the Rohingya people?, National Geographic (Feb.8, 2019), https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/people/reference/rohingya-people/.  Kathryn Reid, Rohingya refugee crisis, World Vision (June 12, 2020), https://www.worldvision.org/refugees-news-stories/rohingya-refugees-bangladesh-facts#:~:text=Since%20Aug.,of%20people%20in%20recent%20history.  Nick-Cumming Bruce, Rohingya Crisis called Ethnic Cleansing, N.Y. TIMES, Sept. 11, 2017, at A9.  Akbar Ahmed, The Rohingya: Myanmar’s outcasts, Al Jazeera, (Jan. 30, 2012) https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/01/201212710543198527.html.  Tarik Kadir, “The Rohingya refugee crisis: forgotten then, forgotten now”, Humanitarian Alternatives, n°7, March 2018, p. 26-35.  C. Christine Fair, Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army: Not the Jihadis You Might Expect, Lawfare (Dec.9, 2018, 10:00 AM), https://www.lawfareblog.com/arakan-rohingya-salvation-army-not-jihadis-you-might-expect.  Richard C. Paddock,, & “Hannah Beech, Myanmar Leader, a Nobel Laureate, Defends Military From Rohingya Accusations, N.Y. TIMES, Sept.20, 2017, at A8.
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