By Sanya Mathur
Precedent for the persecution in 2017 of Rohingya Muslims has been based on the discriminatory practices of the Myanmar government going back to as early as the 1970s. Despite the fact that many Rohingyas can trace their roots back in Myanmar itself, they are considered as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denied citizenship by the Buddhist majority country under the 1982 Myanmar Nationality Law. Recent events, which intensified the repression and the resulting mass exodus, especially from the Rohingya–populated state of Rakhine, has created Refugee crisis in Bangladesh.
According to the estimation made by the UNHCR, between 25 August and 20 November 2017, 621,000 refugees have crossed overland into Bangladesh and as of 4 October, that puts the number of refugees close to 800,000. Many are living in squalor, lacking basic amenities like water. There are also concerns over the spread of disease as the refugees arrive in poor health; unable to afford treatment upon arrival.
In a speech at the UN General Assembly debate, the Bangladeshi Prime Minister said “I have come here just after seeing the hungry, distressed and hopeless Rohingya from Myanmar who took shelter in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh […] This forcibly displaced people of Myanmar are fleeing an ‘ethnic cleansing’ in their own country where they have been living for centuries.” While Nobel laureate Aung Sang Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s defacto leader claims, per her speech at Amnesty International, in no uncertain terms that there have been “no conflicts since 5 September and no clearance operations [against the Muslim population].”
Much to the surprise of the international community, China has offered a three-stage resolution to the refugee crisis in light of its decision to play a greater role in international politics. According to the Foreign Minister Wang Yi, during his recent visit to Myanmar, the two countries (Myanmar and Bangladesh) should firstly, call a ceasefire; secondly, engage in bilateral talks to improve the current situation and finally, work towards a long-term conflict resolution. He also called for the rehabilitation of Rakhine aided by the international community and the UN Security Council.
The solution found great favour with the people of both Myanmar and Bangladesh. Wang also stated that a cessation of hostilities had already begun which now needed to be backed by the two states. This was followed, yesterday, by the signing of an accord between the two countries concerning the repatriation of Rohingya refugees. A communication released by the Bangladeshi authorities suggests this would begin within the next two months. Unfortunately, however positive this development may seem, questions have been raised about the conditions to which these displaced people might be sent back into.
This may be a pertinent question because although the crisis may itself come to an end, the international community cannot and should not breathe a sigh of relief until a better and safer life can be guaranteed to the Rohingya. It is widely understood that the agreement has been made under pressure: Bangladesh is keen to prove to its people that the Rohingya will not stay forever; Myanmar is under pressure from the world to do more in response to the crisis. Unfortunately, a resolution of the crisis cannot be accepted until Buddhist civilian population of Myanmar becomes more accepting and the authorities end the state discrimination of the Rohingya Muslims.
Photograph: Jordi-Bernabeu-Farrús via Flickr