The Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day was observed on 25th of August. The day should be remembered as one when the much of the civilized world failed the Rohingya, by failing to stop the Rohingya genocide. Apparently, it became only Bangladesh’s worry.
Two efforts were made for the repatriation of the Rohingyas. Both ended in fiascos. On both these occasions not a single Rohingya showed up. The Rohingyas just refused to go. Actually ever since the Arakan Muslims started coming to Bangladesh fleeing the atrocities perpetrated by xenophobic Rakhine in cahoots with Myanmar authorities, many here predicted that it would be extremely difficult to send back those who took refuge in this country. And many people are putting the blame on the Rohingyas. However in the opinion of this writer it would unwise to put the blame on the unfortunate refugees. How can these people be expected to take a plunge into uncertainty? The Myanmar authorities, at intervals send out statements about how the country is keen to take back the refugees. There is little reason for the Rohigyas to believe those statements. The brutality they faced is still quite fresh in their collective psyche.
In Bangladesh, especially in the recent days, there is an apparently well-thought-out plan to demonise the Rohingya people. What is ironic is the fact the quarters lambasting the Rohingya are using the same argument used by their persecutors in Myanmar–Myanmar military, Buddhist bhikshus, extremist elements, politicians. In the thinly veiled racist campaign Rohingyas are being branded as criminals, extremists, smugglers, polygamous and what not. This culture of hate is assuming sickening proportions. Much hullabaloo has been raised about the cell phones used by the Rohingya. In the opinion of this writer in this day and age receiving information from cell phones is a right. All of us change the SIM card of our phone set after reaching a foreign country. Many Bangladeshis, staying abroad illegally are using cell phones. Even people in jails have access to cell phones. So those who are indulging in diatribes against the Rohingya for using mobile sets would sing a different tune if their relatives abroad are not allowed access to cell phones. Myanmar is yet to allow anyone in their Rakhine state for closer inspection. The world must be reassured that enough changes have taken place and if the Rohingyas return they can live with dignity. There is no question that a genocide forced these people to flee. It is the military that rules the roost in the erstwhile Burma. The civilian authorities in dealing with the issue have opted for obscurity. Myanmar is yet to admit to their crimes in any meaningful manner. With the Myanmar authorities not admitting their atrocities it would be too much to expect the Rohingyas to believe them. Bangladesh has time and again raised the issue in various platforms yet from Myanmar’s side there has only been deafening silence. The onus can’t be on the Rohingyas alone. To be frank Myanmar has not been sincere in their approach. They are not allowing any neutral body to carry out surveys in the Rakhine state.
Even more unfortunately there has not been any change in the antagonistic attitude of the Buddhist leaders of Rakhine. There has been no attempt to tone down their militant rhetoric. Derek Mitchell, who served as U.S. ambassador to Burma from 2012 to 2016, said. “We in the international community see the Rohingya as innocent people who just want to call themselves a name and who are uniquely abused for it. And, of course, it’s true they are largely innocent and uniquely abused. But to people in Myanmar, the name suggests something much more.”
For Yangon the very term Rohingya is particularly fraught. This is because if the government acknowledges Rakhine’s Muslims as members of the Rohingya ethnic group, then under the 1982 citizenship law—ironically, the same measure that stripped the Rohingya of their citizenship—the Muslims would be allowed an autonomous area within the country. And therein lies the crux of the problem: The government there fear a Rohingya autonomous area along the border with Bangladesh would come at the expense of Rakhine territory.
The authorities in Myanmar are yet to come out with a programme of social reconciliation among all people of Arakan. They could have invited Bangladeshi officials and representatives of the Rohingyas to go to Rakhine to get an idea of the ground realities. The Rohingyas, according to all evidence are right to think that if they go back will face the similar abuses that force them to leave Rakhine in the first place. While the scale and speed of this population movement were unprecedented, this was not the first time the Rohingya had been driven out of Myanmar. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has provided medical aid to the Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh for decades. Their struggles over successive cycles of violence and persecution have long been an underreported crisis.
It has been two years since Rohingyas are out of their country. And the law in Myanmar stipulates that if someone leaves their homestead for over two years they are no longer the owner of that land. So the Rohingya may not have any home to go back to.
For instance, in the Operation Dragon King carried out in the late 1970s included mass arrests, persecution, and horrific violence, driving some 200,000 Rohingyas across the border to Bangladesh. The neighbouring country opens refugee camps, where MSF provides medical aid.
But by 1979, most of the Rohingya were repatriated to Burma. Of those remaining in Bangladesh, as many as 10,000 people died– the majority children.
On a related note the attitudes on show from the two Asian giants have not been to Bangladesh’s advantage regarding the Rohingya imbroglio. The India Bangladesh relations are believed to be at an all time high at present. Yet the much-touted ‘entente cordiale’ has not been endorsed by solid actions regarding this crisis. In the Indian media too the Rohingya issue is basically sidelined. It should be admitted though that India has given refuge to a several thousand Rohingyas, which apart from Bangladesh no other state has.
China has been on record desiring to play a role. However, any visible pressure has not been exerted on Myanmar.
Last month Chinese embassy officials were at the repatriation points. They saw first-hand that Rohingyas’ insecurities about going back and therefore, the next step for China should be to organise a face to face discussion between Bangladesh and Myanmar, where the different facets of the problem need to be resolved with China working as the rapporteur. With both the reparation effort not yielding anything it has to be accepted that the Rohingyas are not going away anytime soon. China has the influence and wherewithal to put pressure on Myanmar. That may be the lone chance for a resolution to this serious crisis.
The writer is Senior Assistant Editor of The Independent