The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide review: Desperate lives

Understanding an exodus and ways to tackle the crisis

November 25, 2017 08:12 pm | Updated December 30, 2017 05:35 pm IST

The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide Azeem Ibrahim Speaking Tiger.

The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide Azeem Ibrahim Speaking Tiger.

The pictures — of a mother with a dead child, risky boat rides, a 13-year-old who doesn’t know how to swim floating on an oil drum, countless orphans at refugee camps — have told us more than a thousand words. At last count, according to the United Nations, some 6,20,000 Rohingya had arrived in Bangladesh from Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine.

The exodus began in August after Myanmar’s security forces responded to Rohingya militant activities with brutality. What lies at the root of this humanitarian crisis? Why have so many people been forced to flee their homeland? What is Myanmar doing about it?

Prof. Azeem Ibrahim tackles these questions in a revised edition of his book, first published last year, in which he argues that the Rohingya tragedy has been unfolding for decades, going back to 1948, when Myanmar gained independence. Like Gerard Prunier’s searing book on the 1994 Hutu-Tutsi killings, The Rwanda Crisis , where he underlined how the massacre of 8,00,000 Rwandese came to pass, Ibrahim explains the reasons behind the acute marginalisation of the Rohingya.

“A key part of the narrative spun by the military, ethnic extremists, Buddhist fundamentalists and the National League for Democracy is that the Rohingya have no right to be in the country. Time and again it is written that they are ‘Bengali’ and should live in their own country — Bangladesh,” he points out. As the Rohingya felt the ‘threat of genocide,’ and amid growing international concern, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan was appointed by the Myanmar government led by Aung San Suu Kyi to find ways to heal simmering divisions between the Rohingya and Buddhists. In its final report in August, the commission urged Myanmar to lift restrictions on movement and citizenship rights for the Rohingya if it wanted to avoid fuelling ‘extremism’ in Rakhine.

When Suu Kyi addressed the violence in Rakhine in a speech on September 19, observers wondered why she said she wanted to ‘find out why this is happening [the exodus]’ when her government had set up the commission in the first place in 2016 after a bout of violence. So, what can be done? While there are no simple solutions, Ibrahim urges the international community and Myanmar’s ‘fractured’ civic society to ‘stand up to the regime.’ On Thursday, Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an initial deal for the possible repatriation of Rohingya Muslims, but a lot more needs to be done to make them feel at home in Rakhine again.

The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide ; Azeem Ibrahim, Speaking Tiger, ₹599.

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