Thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled from Myanmar to bordering regions of Bangladesh after the Myanmar military was deployed into the state of Rakhine where they live. The movement began earlier this month after officials announced the military intervention. Rohingya leaders in Bangladesh have stated that at least 3,500 refugees from Myanmar have arrived in the past couple of weeks. This has placed even greater pressure on the overpopulated refugee camps located near the Naf river that lies between Bangladesh and Myanmar. There are further reports that Rohingya Muslims in Zay Di Pyin, a small village in the Rakhine state, are being blockaded from accessing food, water, and their work sites by their Buddhist neighbours.
Regarding Zay Di Pyin specifically, the Myanmar police headquarters spokesperson, Colonel Myo Thu Soe, stated: “I think they are just afraid and aren’t going out.” However, Chris Lewa of Arakan Project, a Rohingya monitoring group, believes “the concern in Zay Di Pyin is that this could escalate into violence between the two communities.” Kamal Hossain, a Rohingya elder who recently fled to Bangladesh, spoke of this mistreatment at home saying, “they force us to stay at home. No Rohingya children are allowed to go to school. We were even pressured into changing our religion…Now we’re living under the open sky, although I had acres of land in my village. But we fled because we had no choice but to save our lives.” Deen Mohammad, another Rohingya refugee who arrived from Rakhine in Bangladesh on August 13th, highlights it is not just the villagers who mistreat the Rohingya. Mohammad says Muslim villagers were not allowed to visit neighbours without prior permission from the army and his family fled home after the military killed his 23-year-old son because he travelled to a nearby village. A spokesperson from UNHCR stated: “In the current security context, the majority, if not all, of these people crossing from Myanmar into Bangladesh are believed to be fleeing insecurity.”
Given the history of the region, the statements and actions from all parties point to the possibility that a larger ethnic conflict will emerge. It is clear that the government of Myanmar and their military are not treating their individuals equally. This, unfortunately, means that there has been no progress made toward understanding and tolerance of different ethnicities within Myanmar after years of tensions. Because there has been no significant effort made to resolve this, it is probable that violence will once again be used as a means of diffusing tension in the short-term. Ethnic cleansing is never a solution, so all groups need to look at a longer-term strategy that involves more inclusive and collaborative strategies to resolve this conflict. Perhaps involving policy and education that focuses on equality, and promotes peaceful attitudes towards each other and the past, while still acknowledging their histories.
These problems are, however deeply rooted in the regions history of politics, religion, and culture. The more than a million Rohingya Muslims living in Myanmar have continued to be denied their citizenship in Myanmar, and thus their access to basic rights. This is because the Buddhist-majority nation labels Rohingya as intruders that came from Bangladesh, while the Muslims claim their ancestors have lived in the region for decades. In 2012, ethnic violence broke out in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine, which resulted in 200 deaths and the displacement of 140,000 others, most of whom were Rohingya.
About 10 days ago a build up of military for the western state Rakhine was announced by officials in Myanmar. This has seemingly forced Rohingya Muslims out of their homes out of fear of both the army and other, Buddhist, villagers. It is necessary for Bangladesh to continue to welcome these refugees in this time to ensure their security. But in order to achieve peace, it is ultimately the responsibility of the Myanmar government to instil policy and perspectives that do not favour certain people above others.
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