The Rohingya community are one of the largest stateless populations in the world. They have experienced overt discrimination and repression by the Myanmar government. They are denied citizenship and civil rights in Myanmar because they are not recognised as an indigenous ethnic group. Instead, they are classified as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite their long history and strongly ingrained culture in Myanmar. In 2017, the Myanmar army engaged in a cleansing of the Rohingya community which led to a mass exodus to Bangladesh. The Myanmar authorities deny the civilian genocide. The country’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, an individual who won the Nobel peace prize in 1991, repeatedly denied all allegations of ethnic cleansing.
Three years later and the community is still experiencing an immeasurable amount of hardship. According to the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, the Rohingya community is “one of, if not, the most discriminated people in the world”. Following the military attacks on the community in 2017, more than 740, 000 Rohingya members sought shelter and refuge in Bangladesh. This map outlines the dispersion of people amongst camps in Bangladesh. However, in March 2019, the Bangladeshi authorities announced they would no longer further accept Rohingya refugees. Instead, efforts were made for the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees despite no tangible attempt being made by the Myanmar authorities for reconciliation.
Despite the agreement for the repatriation, the barriers remained regarding the civil and political rights of the Rohingya community. Moreover, the lack of recognition of the cultural identity of the community as indigenous people from Myanmar led to the repatriation agreement to be rejected by the Rohingya community. Hence, the crisis has continued and now this displaced community faces another mounting issue.
Due to overcrowding and the lack of infrastructure in Bangladesh, currently, more than 1600 refugees are being transported from Bangladesh to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal. According to the Human Rights Watch, the authorities plan to relocate 4,000 refugees. Although the Bangladeshi authorities stated that the move is made by choice of the refugees, many humanitarian groups have publicly raised concerns of coercion. Specifically, incidents of government officials using threats and incentives. This transportation of the refugees to the island is extremely problematic as there are reports that the island is flood and cyclone-prone. Furthermore, the Bangladeshi government refused to grant the UN permission to undertake a safety assessment.
There are significant human rights issues with this relocation process. As articulated by Brad Adams, the Human Rights Watch Asia executive director, “if the government were genuinely confident in the habitability of the island, they would be transparent and not hastily circumvent UN technical assessments.” Moreover, the issue of coercion, misleading information and lack of voluntariness by the refugees on the relocation to the remote island raises pertinent human rights concerns.
Hence, despite international donors pledging $600 million to aid the humanitarian crisis, ranging from the United Kingdom, the United States and the E.U., the effectiveness of the aid remains questionable. Cramps remain overcrowded. Furthermore, Bangladesh does not have the infrastructure to support the refugees, thereby leading to the relocation of refugees to an island through coercive means. Additionally, the conflict and ethnic tension has not ceased in Myanmar, with key civil and political rights of citizenship of the Rohingya community still not addressed.
The situation presents itself as seemingly bleak. However, there is the capacity for change in the future. Human rights organisations have actively engaged in appealing to countries to acknowledge the Rohingya crisis as a ‘genocide’. This recognition would lead to international bodies and countries intervening in the Rohingya conflict, thereby initiating the mechanisms towards repatriation. Ultimately, this would be a first step in facilitating a lasting resolution for the Rohingya community.