The Rohingya People And Their Struggle For Equal Rights

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The term ‘refugees’ is spoken, heard and seen almost every other day. From Syrian refugees to Rohingya refugees, news about these individuals never seem to cease. We live in the 21st century where the internet enables us to reach out and hear the refugees stories. However the saddest part of it all is, despite all of that; the circumstances of the refugees is barely getting any better.

It would not be a surprise if many have heard and seen news of the Rohingya crisis. But the questions is, why are they speaking out and wanting to escape from Myanmar? The Rohingya people were called the ‘boat people’ by the international media when they were spotted waiting on board fishing boats off the coast of Indonesia, seeking asylum. As time passed, they were known as the ‘stateless people’.

And why is that so? Simply because Myanmar claimed them to be illegal immigrants, whereas “the Rohingya people say they have lived in the western state of Rakhine for generations“. Moreover, Bangladesh has repeatedly refused to allow the Rohingya people in their state and according to Amnesty International, “Bangladesh detained and forcibly returned hundreds” of Rohingyas.

The Rohingya crisis has been present since the 90’s and Amnesty International further revealed that “the Bangladesh government has since 1992 refused to grant refugee status to Rohingya arriving from Myanmar”. Thus, the Rohingya are more than often pushed back to Myanmar to a collective punishment.

Image Credit: Indian Defence Analysis
Image Credit: Indian Defence Analysis

The Indian Express mentioned “the fears of a fresh influx of Rohingya have compelled the Bangladesh government to refuse entry to those who have once again been exposed to the brutality of the Myanmar army”. Why are the Rohingya people so adamant to leave Myanmar? That is because they have been treated unjustly by the government and the military forces.

As told by many people from the Rohingya community, there have been many indiscriminate reprisal attacks on their people by the Myanmar security forces. International media outlets have mentioned attacks such as firing at Rohingya villages from helicopter gunships, torching hundred of homes, conducted arbitrary arrests and raping of women and girls.

Moreover, the Myanmar government has denied all the allegations against them and said there is no violation of human rights against the Rohingya. United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Yanghee Lee mentioned in a news conference on 20 January 2017 how the Myanmar government’s refusal to address the allegations have lessened its reliability.

“The government’s response to all of these problems seem to currently be to defend, dismiss and deny,” Lee said.

” For the government to continue being defensive when allegations of serious human rights violations have persistently been reported, that is when the government appears less and less credible.”

Sure, the Rohingyas have faced atrocities and resentment in Myanmar but it’s not the only country who has been unfair to them. Bangladeshi authorities have repeatedly pushed the Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar which forced these asylum-seekers into hiding. The fact that Bangladesh detained and forced hundreds of refugees to return to Myanmar, the act itself was a violation of International Law.

Image Credit: Bangladesh Authorities - Southeast Asia Globe
Bangladesh Authorities – Southeast Asia Globe

As cited by Amnesty International, “the move is a violation of the principle of non-refoulement – an absolute prohibition under international law on forcibly returning people to a country or place where they would be at real risk of serious human rights violations”.

Many out there often blame Myanmar for being the sole reason to the circumstances the Rohingya people are in, whereas Bangladesh has an equal or a greater part to play in their lives. The Bangladesh government has a policy from back in 1992 of refusing and returning Rohingya refugees back. This led to the Rohingya having to pay smugglers in order to take them across.

Furthermore, the Rohingya vulnerability made them a target for local thieves. Refugees tend to run from their homes without even the basic necessities and it’s not only upsetting but disappointing to see how two big nations have caused the Rohingya people to plead for help from the international media. Is this what democracy is like?

There is a clear violation of human rights against the Rohingya but apart from Myanmar declining these claims, they have further “blocked access to humanitarian aid and effectively barred independent journalists and human rights monitors from entering the area“. The question is if the Myanmar government has got absolutely nothing to hide, why are they not allowing access to “independent observers, including human rights monitors, aid workers and journalists“? Something to wonder, yes?

Aung San Suu Kyi, the ever famous Burmese politician and the prominent leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) has the primary responsibility to lead the concern and conflict over the Rohingya people. However, she has failed to end or even address the Rohingya migrant crisis. Moreover NLD has refused to comment on the issue, which has turned into a concern for the international media.

Image Credit: BBC
Image Credit: BBC

Researchers in the West concluded that “despite the fact that this is the most significant test of Suu Kyi’s leadership, she has remained remarkably indifferent”. This crisis has also placed NLD and Suu Kyi’s image on the line as there are many doubts surrounding them.

Also, 28 global leaders have warned Suu Kyi of the consequences of not involving herself in the Rohingya crisis. As mentioned by Al Jazeera, “more than a dozen Nobel laureates have criticised Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi for failing to uphold the human rights of Rohingya Muslims in the country’s Rakhine state, urging for immediate action to avoid ‘ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity’ “.

However, despite numerous appeals; Suu Kyi has yet to taken any action to make sure the Rohingya people receive their deserved citizenship rights. BBC reporter Mishal Husain had interviewed Suu Kyi earlier last year and the Rohingya crisis was brought up. it was disappointing to see how Suu Kyi was more concerned about the cultural and religious differences between the Buddhist majority and the R0hingya people rather than what can be done to solve the crisis itself.

“I would like to make the point that there are many moderate Muslims in Burma who have been well integrated into our society, but these problems arose last year and I think this is due to fear on both sides,” Suu Kyi said.

“This is what the world needs to understand; that the fear is not just to the side of the Muslims but on the side of the Buddhists as well.”

Image Credit: Al Jazeera
Image Credit: Al Jazeera

The Rohingya crisis has been existent for decades, but the recent refugee crisis in Europe indefinitely overshadowed the Rohingya plight. It is still very much present and only seems to be worsening. The international media has no doubt voiced their circumstances and what atrocities they have gone through and are still going through.

Then why is there little done for them? Bangladesh and Myanmar both have contributed equally in worsening the Rohingyas situation and it is our duty as ethical individuals to speak up and be their voices, until the day it starts getting better.

Day in and day out, we hear refugee crisis going from bad to worse. Therefore, lets use our voices to speak out for these voiceless individuals as a larger force with a stronger voice might perhaps be their solace.

Mari Khan Safi 

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