By Ananya Upadhyay
Troubles for the world’s largest refugee community, the Rohingyas, are far from over. In fact, their plight has only worsened. Following violent clashes in Rakhine state of Myanmar between security officers and Rohingya militants in late August, several villages have been torched and more than a million Rohingya lives displaced.
How did the conflict begin?
The conflict, as per the claims of the Myanmar government, began when a group of Rohingya insurgents (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) raided 30 police posts and an army base, killing about 12 security officers. The forces then retaliated by killing 77 of them. The violence came hours after members of civil society gathered in Yangon to hear the final report of the Rakhine commission, an advisory body appointed by state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, and led by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Tasked with finding solutions to entrenched tensions between Muslims and Buddhists, the commission recommended amending laws governing citizenship that currently exclude Rohingyas. Later, government forces allegedly responded by burning down houses and shooting civilians.
An entire community thrown into turmoil
About 70,000 have managed to reach the Bangladesh border, according to Human Rights Watch. However, more than 30,000 could not and are stuck in a shelter-less no man’s land. Bangladesh has tightened its border controls to prevent more refugees from coming in and the Myanmar government is showing no sign of extending aid. Those who made it safely, narrated ghastly encounters of women being gang-raped, children being thrown into fire and innocent people being shot mercilessly. Several UN workers have compared the gross human right violations to those of Chechnya and Kosovo in the past.
Rising tensions result in agitated protests
Around 1.1 million Rohingyas live in Myanmar, most of them in the Rakhine state. Myanmar government is unwilling to give them citizenship as they see them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh while Bangladesh considers them Burmese. The discrimination between the local population and Rohingyas spurred the agitation and extremism. Citing high risks to safety, independent international media agencies and even UN bodies have been denied access to the area. Ongoing projects and aid-work have been halted, preventing the media from getting on ground evidence and putting the homeless refugees into even more trouble.
Unclear authoritative stance raises more doubts
Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate who was under house arrest for years for her pro-democracy activism, is Myanmar’s democratically-elected leader. She is yet to comment on the latest violence. Under growing international pressure to condemn the army’s acts, her disturbing silence on the issue till now indicates her taking a nationalist stance. She has to face a powerful military and the Burmese public, both largely hostile to the Rohingya. The government maintains its defiant stand and claims the Rohingyas burnt their own homes and fled, and that violence had been propagated by ‘terrorists’ in an attempt to tarnish the government’s peaceful image.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who arrived in Myanmar on Tuesday for an official visit, is expected to raise the issue. However, in a bid to boost economic and military ties with Myanmar, the government announced its plans to deport 40,000 Rohingyas last month, saying that they were illegal migrants. Hence, the extent to which the issue will be addressed is unclear.
Another boat people crisis
In May 2015, thousands of Rohingya attempted to flee Myanmar via the Andaman Sea on overcrowded boats. They were abandoned by smugglers who left them adrift without food and water. Many died of starvation and disease. Phil Robertson, of Human Rights Watch, said that many of the refugees will probably settle in unofficial camps in Bangladesh. “These people have no status—they’ll get some support from the U.N. and other NGOs, but very limited amounts,” he said. “And once the winds and waves slow down in the Andaman Sea, we’re gonna see another boat people crisis.”
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