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The Rohingya issue calls for international attention
by Rohingya Human Rights
2009-11-13 07:33:30
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Once Arakan was an independent and sovereign monarchy ruled by Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim kings. According to A. P Phayer and G.E. Harvey, the Arakanese kings established their capitals in eight different towns, transferring from one to another. Dinnyawadi was the capital for 25 kings (146-746 AD), Vesali for 12 kings (788-994 AD), First Pyinsa (Sanbawut) for 15 kings (1018-1103 AD), Parin for 8 kings (1103-1167 AD), Krit for 4 kings (1167-1180 AD), Second Pyinsa for 16 kings (1180-1237 AD); Launggyet for 17 kings (1237-1433 AD) and Mrauk-U for 48 for kings (1433-1784AD). The Burmese king seized Arakan in 1784. Subsequently, Arakan was under British colonial rule from 1826 to 1948.

Burma's independence hero Aung San was shot dead in 1947 in Rangoon, six months before it won its independence, by a dissident army group. Aung San was holding a meeting, on the issue of independence, with the ethnic minority representatives including U Abdul Razzak, representative of Muslims in Burma. All died on the spot. Burma attained independence, six months later, in 1948. Burma was a parliamentary democracy until 1962.

During the democratic period, Rohingyas were recognised for their identify. The north western side of Arakan, where the Rohingyas lived was declared a separate state in 1961 by the U Nu government. After the military coup in 1962, all the facilities of Rohingyas, even their citizenship was denied by the Ne Win military government. The regime started persecution of the Rohingya for being Muslims.

Rohang, the old name of Arakan, was very familiar to the Arab seafarers even during the pre-Islamic days. Tides of people like the Arabs, Moors, Turks, Pathans, Moghuls, Central Asians, Banglees came mostly as traders, warriors, preachers and captives overland or using the sea route. Many settled in Arakan. They mixed with the local people, now known as ethnic Rohingyas. The Rohingyas have been forced to leave their home country for 30 years. They are among the world's most persecuted refugees. They are also among the most forgotten. They have been forced to go to many different countries. The biggest number were forced to cross into Bangladesh.

The Rohingyas experienced even greater difficulties in Bangladesh. The Rohingyas are extremely poor and have little rights as refugees in Bangladesh. The government of Bangladesh never gave them formal refugee status, and forced many of them to leave the country. Around 230,000 of the refugees have been repatriated to Myanmar, and approximately 20,000 live in UNHCR-administered camps in Bangladesh. At least 100,000 Rohingyas are believed to be in Bangladesh outside the camps, with no official status as refugees, according to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). In the most southern part of Bangladesh, near the city of Teknaf, live 6,000 Rohingya refugees from neighbouring Myanmar. They live in terrible conditions in a provisional camp. Classified by the Bangladesh government as illegal immigrants, the people have not received any support until very recently. Since the end of May, Medecins Sans Frontieres has been operating a small healthcare centre and improving the water supply and sanitary conditions in the camp.

The Rohingyas are a Muslim minority, deprived of citizenship rights in their native country of Myanmar and are subjected to various forms of repression by the government there. Many camp residents fled to Bangladesh years ago. Some were sent back to Myanmar.

"I was born in Myanmar, but the Burmese government says I don't belong there. I grew up in Bangladesh, but the Bangladeshi government says I cannot stay there. As a Rohingya, I feel I am caught between a crocodile and a snake", said a 19-year-old refugee in Bangladesh. "If I go to get wood, I'll get arrested. If I collect water I'll get beaten. We've got nowhere to go." A woman living in Kutupalang camp (MSF report) said, "Without a fundamental solution for the Rohingya not only in countries where they seek asylum but at their origin, there is no apparent end to this humanitarian crisis."
The Rohingya, an ethnic Burma group in the state of national Limbo, are one of the most severely affected communities living under the military regime in a country where human rights abuse and sufferings are the norms. The systematic human rights abuses towards the Rohingya are committed with the intent to destroy this particular minority community. The Rohingyas living in the north of Rakhine State of Myanmar are legally obliged to purchase expensive marriage permits, unlike the rest of the population. Children born out of marriage often have to pay high informal fines or face imprisonment and a two child only policy applies. Since 1948, about 1.5 million Rohingyas have either been expelled or have had to flee the country to escape persecution. Most of them were forced to flee to Bangladesh, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Malaysia. They are vulnerable without any status in those countries. Neither civil society organisations nor the UN and other international organisations paid any proper attention to resolve the issue over the last two decades.

Prime minister U Nu declared, "Rohingya" as an indigenous ethnic group of Burma like the Shan, Kachin, Karen, Chin, Mon and Rakhine in a radio speech broadcast on September 24, 1954. But after the downfall of the U Nu government, the state peace and development council (SPDC) Burma's military government -- refused to accept the existence of an ethnic group called "Rohingya". They are not considered to be a national ethnic group under sec. 3 of a 1982 Law, which made the Rohingya population ineligible to full citizenship. The military regime has declared the Rohingyas as non-nationals in utter disregard of their history and glorious past. Planned Buddhist settlements caused serious demographic changes in northern Rakhine (Arakan). The Rohingyas have to provide slave labour to build military establishments, bridges, embankments and pagodas. Since the promulgation of the Burma Citizenship Law in 1982, Rohingya students have been denied the right to education.

Around 230,000 of the refugees have been repatriated to Burma. Some of these people were forced to return to Bangladesh. More and more new Rohingya refugees continue to arrive.

Approximately 20,000 remain in the UNHCR-administered camps in Bangladesh. At least 100,000 Rohingyas are believed to be in Bangladesh outside the camps and with no official status as refugees. The Rohingya issue affects Bangladesh most because of its border with Burma. The government of Bangladesh has failed to raise the issue at international level.

The bilateral relationship between Bangladesh and Burma is obsessed with its economic prospects. The government of Bangladesh plays down the problem as a repatriation matter that has overshadowed the Rohingya issue. A durable and dignified solution for the Rohingya must be found, not only in countries where they seek asylum, but in Myanmar, the country of their origin.

At the Kutupalong makeshift camp in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, recently local administration gave Rohingya refugees 48 hours to leave or their homes would be burned down. The camp is home to thousands of unregistered Rohingya refugees, according to MSF.

One frequently reads newspaper reports of Rohingyas being rounded up by Bangladesh police from different places.

Newspapers report almost everyday of Rohingyas from Arakan being pushed into Bangladesh and the BDR pushes them back to Myanmar.

The international community and the UN should come forward to find a solution to the Rohingya issue.


Article by WN Guest Writer Nurul Islam 

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