The Rohingya people are the most persecuted lot in the world as per Amnesty International. Residing once upon a time in Rakhine State of Myanmar, they’re also known as Arakan and are a Muslim minority group considered to be a variation of the Sunni religion. Having been denied any kind of recognition by their home country thanks to the 1982 Citizenship Law that grossly denies them political, social, cultural and economic opportunities, the Rohingya amidst a series of brutal state sponsored ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ episodes, resorted to armed violence.
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), formed in 1948 after erstwhile Burma (Myanmar’s old name) independence laid dormant for decades until finally in 1990, it got external support from Rohingya people living in Saudi Arabia. The ARSA were then given weapons and training to fight against Rohingya oppression and kill the Buddhist majority population if the need arose. Clashes between ARSA and the Burmese Military reached such proportions that their actions resulted in loss of innocent lives on both sides. The Burmese military came under intense criticism from human rights activists for indiscriminately killing ARSA ‘terrorists’ and civilians alike.
On August 25, 2017 Rohingya militants attacked the government forces, and the government in response attacked the civilian population, forcing dozens of thousands of Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. The Tula Toli massacre at the village of Tula Toli also known as Min Gyi of the Rakhine State invited universal condemnation from human rights and news organizations from around the world.
In the face of such widespread persecution, the Rohingya had no other option but to flee and seek shelter in neighboring countries. Since Bangladesh is geographically closest to Rakhine, many Rohingya have taken shelter in Kutupalong refugee camp, one of the most densely inhabited camps in Bangladesh. Close to 4 lakh Rohingya have taken refuge in Bangladesh so much so that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Bangladeshi government are facing an increasing shortage of space, essential food supplies and humanitarian assistance and have requested from countries across the globe.
India recently dispatched Indian Naval Ship (INS) Gharial with about 9000 tonnes of relief material to refugees in Bangladesh apart from sending relief aid via an Indian Air Force C-17 aircraft earlier this month. However, when it comes to giving shelter within its own territory, India’s stance has been a tad bit different and calculated. Close to 40,000 Rohingya have taken shelter in India.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh remarked just a few days back that the Rohingya are illegal migrants and not refugees. Though this statement invited condemnation from student and civil society organizations alike, one needs to consider the complexity of the situation. The economic burden emanating from the huge refugee influx and the growing fear of linkages between the Rohingya and the Islamic State that can result in a spike in terrorist activities as evidenced in terrorist incidents in London, Berlin and Barcelona has put the government on guard. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court of India argued that deporting the illegal Rohingya back just to be persecuted, as was initially proposed by the Central government, will be in direct violation of India and the UN’s policy on humanitarian treatment of persecuted victims. More insight on the same needs to be discussed before an an Action Plan is envisaged.
But more than an individual country’s efforts, it’s important that countries in South and South-East Asia come together and put international pressure on the Myanmar government to reconsider its stance with regard to the Rohingya. More than a violent confrontation, diplomatic channels on multiple levels needs to be opened up so that the level of hatred, apathy and bad blood between the Rohingya and the Myanmar Buddhist majority population decreases. If this isn’t done; there can be no hope for the Rohingya and neither for the rest of the world.