‘There are two Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, one run by the UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council), and one run by the government. With over 900,000 refugees in Bangladesh, only a paltry 12 % are actually registered. Harrowing pictures from international media flood ones news daily of this minority group braving oceans, fires and armed guards to survive and find asylum.’
This is the daily life of a refugee. Living with the constant fear of dying or being captured on their own lands.
The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority group from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, just south of Bangladesh, who have at times numbered 1.1 million. The Myanmar government claims that the minority ethnic group hails from Bangladesh and was brought to Rakhine when it was still a British colony. While the Rohingya’s claim that they have been a part of the country since as early as the eighth century and some even before that. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, called it a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” (The term is often used to refer to the forced removal of an ethnic or religious group by intimidation or violence).
For years, the group has faced discrimination at the hands of the Myanmar government and military group. An attack against the Myanmar officials in 2012 sparked this issue as the officials reacted with vigour, failing to recognize the group as citizens of the country- leaving them lost and stateless. As Myanmar fails to recognize the minority group, their plight of citizenship and identity continues.
A Rohingya refugee woman who crossed the border from Myanmar a day before, carries her daughter and searches for help as they wait to receive permission from the Bangladeshi army to continue their way to the refugee camps, in Palang Khali, Bangladesh October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Living in a war-torn area is often associated with the dearth of basic resources such as education, food, water, and shelter. Many have flocked to nearby more stable locations such as India and Bangladesh. While 40,000 are in India, only 16,000 have been successful in attaining the necessary refugee documentation required by the Indian government.
Despite Rohingya being home to almost 135 ethnic groups, the root cause of the crisis seems to be economic rather than socio-ethnic. Aid agencies say they are overwhelmed and cannot provide enough food, water or shelter. Other refugee crises have involved a larger total number of refugees, but have stretched out over longer periods, sometimes lasting years, so the flow has been less intense than the exodus from Myanmar.
Land grabbing has long been part of the country with the then in power military seizing land without any compensation in the name of development and resource exploitation. Myanmar’s geographical position also lands it in hot soup as the neighboring nations such as India and China are on the lookout for installing developmental pipelines and exploiting resources in exchange for labor and capital. Hence the minority community has long been denied their rightful share of land and other natural resources in the region.
Commentators have faulted Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence on what many are calling a deliberate act of genocide.
Basic humanitarian measures call for richer, developed countries to accommodate refugees. However, policymakers and governments tend to be skeptical, owing to shared resources, lower employment rates and housing concerns within the refugee populations. Questions also arise about the competing groups of refugee and the local population over major economic issues such as employment and state funding.
Past experiences of the 1991 refugee crisis in Denmark show that refugees could impact the economy negatively and nudge citizens out of low-income jobs. However, using past experiences could prove to be unnecessary as the refugees today are young and usually looking to contribute and support themselves. This implies that they are willing to take up jobs that the citizens wouldn’t.
This is widely visible in the case of Europe where Syrian refugees have fulfilled labor demands. So was the case in the United Kingdom (before Brexit). The refugees are usually willing to take up jobs in the informal sector, that locals have refused.
The actual problem stems from how we as a part of the developing world handle refugee crisis. Political borders and powerful seizing of the land often leaves many homeless and more importantly- without a definite identity. The refusal to help and acknowledge them creates a further sense of hopelessness and despair.
While countries like the UK are involved, pledging to donate 45 million in the Rohingya refugee camps, the future for the community and the country remains grim and uncertain. Aung San Suu Kyi’s November address didn’t mention the community by name nor did it directly condemn the army. This points to the underlying task of uniting the country and making the Myanmar democracy work. If not, a return to the unenviable past seems to be on the cards.
We, the global citizens of this vastly developing, connected world need to acknowledge the lives being lost. The dreams that are broken. The stories that stop mid-sentence. We need to humanize war and look at individual stories to empathize with the people being affected by it. While the economy and socio political factors come into play, its humanity that actually dies.
- Time magazine article on the Rohingya refugee crisis