The long standing tragedy of the Myanmar Rohingya community was brought into sharp focus with the initial find by Thai authorities of mass graves on the Thai-Malaysian border. The enormity of the human trafficking situation was brought to light with the arrival of the first 1000+ abandoned Bangladeshi and Rohingya migrants and asylum seekers on the beaches of the resort island of Langkawi in Malaysian waters and others crying for help off the coast of Acheh, Indonesia. The diverse response to this overwhelming wave of migrants and refugees waiting in ricketty boats for Fate’s next move was, mildly put, interesting. Governments possessing the capacity to rescue and give necessary humanitarian help, were not the first to offer a helping hand or open their borders to these desperate, starved victims of greed driven irresponsibility and inhumanity.
That was two years ago in 2014, in 2016 this year, the pressure cooker conditions of discrimination and persecution of the Rohingya minority claiming as their homeland, Arakan State (which Myanmar in general calls Rakhine State) exploded into a tragedy of holocaust proportions. The bitter hatred that raised its ugly head in 2012 now runs rampant in Northern Arakan in an orgy of burning, looting, slaughter, torture and rape of the civilian Rohingya population. To many Rohingya refugees, living in an environment of fear and danger has become a daily hazard. Yet, some try as hard as possible to live normal lives, even if they have to live in squalid conditions of utter poverty and neglect. Yet even this tenuous ‘normality’ was wrenched apart by a single incident that earned reprisals on the heads of Rohingya civilians who possibly had nothing to do with the crime. Reprisals that brought back memories of the death camps in Europe, the Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia during World War 2 and the 1970s “Killing Fields” of Cambodia among the many modern day wars.
What is happening in Arakan/Rakhine State in north western Myanmar is no less than a war in which the customary rules of international conflict do not apply as the government sees it as an internal affair. The Rohingya have been rendered stateless for a very long time, despite having had political representation in the local state parliament, some years ago. What exactly is their status then? Is this a one-sided civil war? Any resistance the Rohingya may have put up is virtually unknown, except for a small group of alleged paramilitaries, who have so far failed to stem the onslaught of the attack on civilians.
Is this conflict an internal affair when the government labels Rohingya as foreign migrants entering illegally from Bangladesh to settle in north Rakhine State? Can this justify use of “non-interference”? The argument contradicts itself, as neighboring Bangladesh disowns the Rohingya as its citizens and attempts to repel the tide of refugees coming from the opposite bank of the Naff River. Moreover, if the Rohingya were foreign migrants, wouldn’t foreign intervention, wherever it came from on their behalf, be justified?
It is heartening to see that the voice of the Rohingya has finally attracted the world’s attention and hopefully, the international community will cease turning a blind-eye to this tragedy simply for economic gain and global politics. Ordinary Bangladeshies came out in protest against the closing of Bangladesh’s borders to the Rohingya fleeing Myanmar on 10th December – Human Rights Day. Ordinary people in other countries in the region show humanity and sympathy for the suffering of the stateless Rohingya despite the hard hearted policies of their governments. Even the United Nations appeal to resolve the Rohingya issue had fallen on deaf ears for some time, with the Myanmar government insisting on treating the issue as a trivial ‘home affair’. This stance has not changed despite the show of ‘democratic’ change in Myanmar.
A new iconic leader, another level of inherent prejudice continues to rule that nation. This time, not only from the regime but from a populace practicing and justifying religious and racial politics. Will Myanmar ever be a truly democratic country if it holds a vision based on religious and racial prejudice?
What does the future hold for the thousands of Rohingya dispersed all over the globe, banished from the place they call home?