Thursday, April 21, 2016
The tragedy of the Rohingyas of Myanmar
While the world feels sympathetic to the plight of refugees fleeing killing fields, the Government of Bangladesh, sadly, seems to have been setting a new record on being nonchalant or unmindful of plight of the distressed people who require all the protections to ensure that they are not further victimized. Recently, it forcibly deported nearly 340 Rohingyas of Myanmar back to their homeland where they have faced death and starvation in recent years.
According to a report in the Myanmar Times that cited information from the U.N.’s refugee agency, as many as 500,000 Rohingyas are living in Bangladesh, but their repatriation has been stalled since 2005. Of the total, only 30,000 Rohingyas have refugee status and live in two camps in Cox’s Bazar. Other Rohingyas don't have the status and live inside Bangladesh illegally. A survey done by a parliamentary committee in 2013 estimated that more than 300,000 Rohingyas were living illegally in Cox’s Bazar, where they live in shantytowns.
With all the political changes taking place inside Myanmar and the hated Nasaka replaced by a new breed of the Border police of Myanmar, fortunately, the deported refugees were not stopped from entering their ancestral homes. It is worth noting that during the erstwhile military backed regime, the returning refugees were shot at - both while trying to leave Myanmar and getting back. This deportation was, thus, a relief to some refugees who longed to return and meet their loved ones still living inside Arakan.
As noted by the Radio Free Asia (RFA), Mohammad Hashem, a Rohingya Muslim in his seventies who fled to Cox’s Bazar to escape Buddhist attacks on Muslims in 1992, told RFA that he would like to return home to Sittwe, the capital of the Arakan (renamed to Rakhine) state to see his wife, daughter and grandsons. “I tried at least 100 times over the years to see them [in Sittwe]. But the Nasaka threatened to kill me. Instead they sought money from me to push my wife and daughter into Bangladesh,” said Hashem, who works as a vendor in Cox’s Bazar.
“I would go back if the Moghs (Buddhists) do not torture us,” he said.
I pray and hope that Hashem can reunite with his family soon. I also hope that in its zeal to deport fleeing refugees from Myanmar, the Bangladesh government is not sending them back without securing some guarantee from the Suu Kyi's government about their safety. Otherwise, it would be a shameful record for a country whose millions of fleeing refugees found shelter in places like India during the War of 1971. That would be one of the greatest crimes of our time.
Most Rohingyas and many other Muslim minorities of Myanmar continue to live in concentration camps. In desperation, many of these persecuted people continue to leave Myanmar, sometimes braving the ocean, to find a safe haven outside.
A boat carrying more than 60 people capsized in rough waters off of Sittwe in Myanmar's Rakhine state on Tuesday, killing at least 21, including nine children, according to a U.N. official.
Janet Jackson, U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar, also known as Burma, issued a statement saying six survivors were being treated for injuries at local health facilities, and that other victims remain missing. She also said the majority of the passengers on the boat were internally displaced people from Sin Tet Maw, a camp for the Rohingya Muslim minority, who were on an authorized day-trip to make purchases at market.
"This accident serves as a tragic reminder of the vulnerabilities that many communities and families face in this area of Rakhine, where their only option is to use this mode of travel in order to access markets, livelihoods and other basic services that are essential for a dignified life," Jackson said.
The Rohingya are unable to travel freely within the country and cannot marry or have children without official permission.
According to a report by Agence France Presse, witnesses blamed the tragedy on these transit restrictions, which force displaced persons to travel by sea.
The United Nations on April 4 gave Myanmar's incoming civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) 100 days to improve living conditions for the country's ethnic minority Rohingya community.
I earnestly pray that Suu Kyi has the wisdom to remove the last vestiges of apartheid Myanmar as soon as possible so that this persecuted people can feel integrated in the land of their forefathers.