The injustice towards the Rohingyas in Myanmar has caught the media’s attention from all corners of the world. Thousands of Rohingyas have fled to the neighboring nations, while thousands still remain trapped in the so-called ‘land of peace’. The promises made by the Myanmar government seem shallow and there are bleak signs of the situation getting better in the coming few years.
Who are the Rohingyas?
The Rohingyas are an ethnic minority primarily residing in the Rakhine State of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. The Citizenship Bill of Myanmar passed in 1982 denied citizenship to the Rohingya’s, making them stateless. The Rohingya population is essentially Muslim, with a few Hindu families. Needless to say, there existed a cultural gap between the majority and the minority, which when fuelled by the discriminatory nature of the Citizenship Bill, led to one of the biggest crises in history.
Why are the Rohingyas denied rights?
The Buddhists of Myanmar see most Rohingyas as descendants of the farmers from Bangladesh. Apart from this, a large number of Rohingyas were sent to Myanmar during the British Rule as laborers, under what the British called internal migration. The Rohingyas were thus labeled as immigrants post a clash after Myanmar’s independence, and were given foreign identity cards.
The Citizenship Bill
The citizenship Bill of 1982 made a few claims, but most importantly, it deprived the Rohingya’s of their right to nationality.
The Citizenship Law of Burma provides for three categories of citizenship:
- Citizenship: The Burma Citizenship Law provided complete citizenship to its residents fulfilling any the following requirements:
- Residents who were citizens of Burma prior to 1823, i.e. the beginning of the British Rule.
- Residents born to parents who were citizens of Burma prior to 1823.
- Residents who belonged to one of the national races (Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Chin, Burman, Mon, Rakhine, Shan, Kaman, or Zerbadee)
2. Associate Citizenship: The following categories were provided with Associate Citizenship:
- Residents who had at least one grandparent as a citizen of Burma prior to 1823.
- Residents who were given citizenship under the 1948 Union Citizenship Law.
3. Naturalized Citizenship: Naturalized citizenship was awarded to the residents who had at least one parent residing in Burma prior to Burma’s independence in 1948.
The Rohingyas, a majority of whom had settled in Myanmar during the British colonial period were thus not recognized as citizens under the new bill. Even the Rohingyas who resided in Myanmar prior to 1823 were not able to produce evidence of their residence and were thus also denied citizenship.
The lack of citizenship restricts the Rohingyas from traveling freely, hinders their access to education, and also leads to arbitrary confiscation of their properties. Acts of violence have turned common between the Buddhist majority and the Rohingyas. There have been numerous cases of rapes, murders, and the Myanmar government was also accused of genocide. As referred to by the United Nations Human Rights chief, the Rohingya crisis is now a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
The IDPs are people who are forced to flee their nation, but they remain inside the borders of the country. They are offered protection under the government, even in cases when the government itself is the cause of their dislocation. The Rohingyas residing inside Myanmar thus fall into the category of IDPs. The IDPs in Myanmar are made to live in camps that lack hygiene and are devoid of even basic health services. Moreover, There are restrictions on movement, speech, and education, stripping the IDPs of almost all of their basic rights. With the communal riots and armed conflicts generating new IDPs every day, the situations only seem to worsen for the ethnic minority in Myanmar.
Flight to Bangladesh
The crisis in Myanmar has led to the Rohingyas fleeing to a number of neighboring countries. Out of all of these, the Cox bazaar of Bangladesh, lying close to the Rakhine state, has seen the maximum immigration.
The Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina initially refused entry to the Rohingya refugees but later succumbed to international pressure. Bangladesh since then has seen the continuous migration of the Rohingyas. More than one million Rohingyas had fled to Bangladesh by the end of 2018, and the numbers have been rapidly increasing. The Bangladeshi government has set up several refugee camps and has provided for the basic requirements of the immigrants. One of these camps, the Kutupalong camp, is the largest and the most densely populated refugee settlement of the world. The refugees, though, are restricted movements and do not have access to education.
The relocation to Thengar Char:
Tensed by the increasing numbers, and the lack of hygiene in the overcrowded camps, the government of Bangladesh decided to relocate the Rohingyas to the island of Thengar Char in the Bay of Bengal. Formed by the sediments of the Meghna River, the Thengar Char Island submerges during high tides and is definitely not the best place to inhabit. Moreover, the island posed restrictions on the movements of the Rohingyas, depriving them of the basic health and education amenities. More than 4 people died within half an hour of reaching the island during the execution of the initial relocation drive. The island was then inspected upon by the members of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and declared inhabitable. The government of Bangladesh has taken up initiatives to work on the island and make it habitable for the settlement of the Rohingyas.
Problems faced by Bangladesh
Most of the refugees in Bangladesh remain unregistered and take up illegal jobs around the area they reside in. The Rohingyas have been accused of causing crime and violence in the Cox bazaar region, and for importing drugs. The immigration of the Rohingyas has affected tourism in the Cox bazaar region, which when paired with the expenses made on the refugees, has had negative impacts on the economy of Bangladesh. Moreover, the continuous rise in numbers had led to the deforestation of areas around the Cox bazaar, harming wildlife, and affecting the overall environment.
Considering Bangladesh’s struggling GDP and small size, the immigration of the Rohingyas has posed major challenges to the government of the nation.
The role of the United Nations
The UN has sent officials from time to time in order to keep a track of the happenings in Myanmar. The report submitted by the United Nations Special Rapporteur highlights the major areas of concern that should be addressed in order to manage the crisis and also provides for their solutions. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has taken up the responsibility of the vaccination drives, and the overall healthcare in the refugee camps. The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres has requested all countries to supply the badly needed aid, while also asking Myanmar to put an end to violence against the Rohingyas.
Promises made by the Myanmar Government
The de-facto leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi made speeches stating that Myanmar was willing to accept the refugees back into the country. In an effort to achieve the same, the government of Myanmar signed a repatriation agreement with Bangladesh in November of 2017. As a part of this agreement, Myanmar agreed to accept 1100 refugees back into the country. Despite the willingness to accept the Rohingyas, the Myanmar government put no efforts in creating a safer environment for the refugees post their return. The agreement thus faced major criticism from the Rohingyas and there were numerous protests denying repatriation. The Rohingyas have refused to repatriate until their demands are adequately addressed by the government. Myanmar is expected to work on creating a safer environment for the Rohingyas, and providing them the basic rights, in order to allow repatriation.
The heartbreaking situation of the Rohingyas calls for all possible sorts of help. The steps taken by the UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council) and the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) have contributed significantly to the betterment of the situation, but the future still seems dark.