While the media’s coverage of the Rohingya refugee crisis has ebbed, they are still struggling under dire conditions. Almost one year ago, the crackdown and ethnic cleansing of Myanmar’s Rohingya by Buddhist extremist groups, as well as the Myanmar army, left most of the remaining population currently residing in Bangladesh. According to Al Jazeera, although the Rohingya have been an ethnic minority in the country for centuries – as early as the twelfth – the Buddhist government refuses to classify them as citizens. Laws passed in 1982 refused to grant them citizenship, even if they have never lived anywhere else, Al Jazeera reports. According to the BBC, the government even denied to include the 2014 national census. The minority of them are largely Muslim, speak a different dialect, and practice markedly different cultural traditions than the dominant population, according to British news outlet.
However, the reasons for their alienation are not rooted in these differences. The Rohingya have lived in the state of Rakhine for centuries without being prosecuted. In fact, the crisis is a relatively modern phenomena and has historical roots that extend back to the early 1900s. Increased migration of Muslims to Myanmar during the British colonial era of India and Pakistan has caused the entire minority to falsely be seen as illegal Bengali immigrants, according to Qatar’s Al Jazeera. Since then, the living conditions of the Rohingya only worsened. They were slowly striped of their rights, starting with them receiving only foreign identity cards that severely limited their social mobility. By the 1980s they became stateless as a result of discriminatory policies. To boot, Myanmar is one of the most economically disadvantaged states, having a poverty rate of 78 percent. According to the Council on Foreign Affairs, Rakhine State is the least economically developed one in the Asian nation, and its poverty rate is significantly higher than the 37.5 percent national average, as seen in the World Bank’s data.
The government, especially the military, also scummed to using violent measures to force the Rohingya to leave the country. Al Jazeera reported that Myanmar’s military endeavours “claimed an estimated 6,700 lives and prompted more than 700,000 people to flee across the border.” The government claims to be impartial to these statements, saying it not be directly involved in causing the refugee crisis, and instead blaming the Rohingya fighters for the violence. The United Nations (UN), however, has condemned their actions several times. From as early as 2013, Human Rights Watch has stated Myanmar to be “conducting a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.” The UN has further said that the refugee crisis is considered to be “the fastest growing.” Similarly, the Wall Street Journal reported that the number of refugees significantly rose in August 2017 from 307,500 to 687,000 due to increased violence, this according to the UN’s refuge department (UNHCR). The multilateral body also pointed out that these refugees, after a long and deathly journey, settle in areas where they are unable to gain required access to health care, food, shelter, and drinking water.
Bangladesh, a poor neighboring country that took in the largest number of refugees is demanding that they are relocated or go back to their homes, a statement that is unrealistic at best. There have been talks between Bangladesh and Myanmar to “return hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees,” but the process has been vague so far.
It is worth noting that other countries have joined in condemning the actions of the Myanmar government. The United States (US), for example has advised the government to “respect the rule of law, stop the violence and end the displacement of civilians from all communities.” The United Kingdom (UK) donated over £59m to support the refugees in Bangladesh. UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, condemned the government’s actions in Rakhine, urging to the army to stop. They also discontinued training ties with the army, according to the BBC.
China, on the other hand, which is considered to be a powerful regional hegemon and a significant world player, has sided with the government of Myanmar stating that the international community “should support the efforts of Myanmar in safeguarding the stability of its national development.” The statement does not come as surprise, as China is also known for discriminating and exploiting few minority groups in the country, especially Muslim Chinese citizens, according to Foreign Policy.
Even for countries that have stood with refugees, how is this condemnation supposed to help at least 700,000 Rohingya refugees who are supposed to start a new life or go back to their home and risk the loss of families and loved ones? In reality, economic sanctions are not being implemented, and while the Rohaniya government was pressured by the international community to state that the refugees could come back, their actions do not showcase any helpful effort.
The Nobel award-winning prime minister, Aung San Suu Kyi, should resign and be held accountable for her lack of actions and deadly silence toward the military’s humanitarian crimes. Shika Hussein, the current prime minister of Bangladesh, has agreed that while Myanmar may agree that the displaced Rohingya must return, they simply “do not act,” according to The Daily Star. The fact is that even if refugees come back, they are often unable to sustain themselves due to discriminatory labor laws. In addition, the Council on Foreign Affairs has reported that Myanmar’s government “ha[s] reportedly cleared abandoned Rohingya villages and farmlands to build homes, security bases, and infrastructure.”
The crisis will remain unresolved if the government takes back the refugees because of the laws in place, which make it hard for refugees to survive. In addition, if they do return, the UN should ensure that they are protected, an action the organization cannot commit to properly with a non-compliant government. The international community also needs to enable the refugees in Bangladesh to live in safe areas under good conditions. As of now, refugees struggle even further during the monsoon season because they rely on wood to cook their food, according to London-based The Guardian. Most live in hubs that were recently inundated in the rain. A refugee spoke to The Guardian about her current hardships in the monsoon season: “It rained much longer than usual, so the stream below flowed into the house. We were asleep – we didn’t realize until the water came inside.”
The international community needs to accommodate the refugees and help them move into better housing. These are small actions that can start a larger change in which other refugee crisis can be dealt with, rather than simply glossed over. If the international community does not take action now, is the Myanmar military the only actor complicit in this crime?
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