Often described as the world’s most persecuted minority, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims are fleeing to Bangladesh. The mass movement comes after Myanmar’s armed forces (Tatmadaw) were granted increased powers September 2017 to launch clearance operations. In what appears to be a beacon of hope for the Rohingya, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina promised to allocate substantial land to establish refugee camps for the incomers. However, given the grim condition of Bangladesh today, she does urge Myanmar to take back the refugees.
Al Jazeera reports that 370,000 Rohingya Muslims have flooded into Bangladesh. Dozens drowned on their passage due to weak transport vessels. Despite acting as a form of safe haven for the Rohingya, Bangladesh is recovering from turmoil itself. Following the severe flooding in August, the Bangladeshi government has reported 145 people to be dead and another 46,000 as displaced. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson labelled the treatment of Rohingya in Myanmar as nothing less than “ethnic cleansing.” The Nobel Women’s Initiative wrote a letter to leader Aung San Suu Kyi, condemning her response and actions to the exodus of the Rohingya: “How many [Rohingya] have to die… before you raise your voice in defence of those who have no voice?”
The impoverished country holds around 400,000 Rohingya Muslims, who fled during earlier rounds of violence, including the 2012 Rakhine State riots when several Rohingya were accused of raping and murdering a Buddhist woman. Undeterred by their recovery from natural disasters, Bangladesh has gone above and beyond in their efforts to welcome the Rohingya, demonstrating solidarity in these bleak conditions. Aid recovery workers in the predominantly Muslim Bangladesh describe the work as their duty to help their “Muslim brothers.” The optimistic attitudes of the Bangladeshi in helping the Rohingya should be a global example, in light of the growing refugee crises worldwide. Similar responses elsewhere would alleviate unnecessary suffering.
Currently, there are approximately 1.1 million Rohingya abiding in Myanmar. Following Myanmar’s independence from British rule in 1948, a Union Citizenship Act was passed, determining which ethnicities could apply for citizenship. The International Human Rights Clinic reported in 2015 that the Rohingya were excluded from the act. Political strife in the state created greater turmoil for the Rohingya. In 1962, shortly after the military coup, all citizens were obliged to obtain national registration cards. The Rohingya were only eligible to receive foreign identity cards. Although there is evidence proving their inhabitance of Myanmar prior to colonial rule, they are excluded from the country’s 135 official ethnic groups and have been denied citizenship in Myanmar since 1982, rendering them stateless.
Among all other factors, Bangladesh consolidating its efforts to accommodate the fragile Rohingya is a commendable gesture. International human rights organizations should applaud them.
Resources should be allocated to Bangladesh to help facilitate a smooth transition for the Rohingya and assist Bangladesh to overcome the aftermath of recent natural disasters. While human rights advocates are condemning Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration for their treatment, any shift in Myanmar’s nationalistic sentiment to prevent ethnic discrimination would be a step toward reconciliation.
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