Thousands of Rohingya have been fleeing Myanmar, especially after the August 25 violence in Western Myanmar. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which places them among the “the most vulnerable groups of the forcibly displaced” has said a total of 87,000 Rohingyas have arrived in Bangladesh as of Monday. Are they really citizens of Myanmar? Why are they leaving now? Here is a lowdown on the issue.
Who are Rohingya?
Rohingya are an ethnic group, largely comprising Muslims, who predominantly live in the Western Myanmar province of Rakhine. They speak a dialect of Bengali, as opposed to the commonly spoken Burmese language.
Though they have been living in the South East Asian country for generations, Myanmar considers them as persons who migrated to their land during the Colonial rule. So, it has not granted Rohingyas full citizenship. According the 1982 Burmese citizenship law , a Rohingya (or any ethnic minority) is eligible for citizenship only if he/she provides proof that his/her ancestors have lived in the country prior to 1823. Else, they are classified as “resident foreigners” or as “associate citizens” (even if one of the parent is a Myanmar citizen).
Since they are not citizens, they are not entitled to be part of civil service. Their movements are also restricted within the Rakhine state.
What happened in 2012?
Myanmar state, which was ruled by the military junta until 2011, has been accused of ethnic cleansing in Rakhine by the United Nations. It deported thousands of Rohingya to Bangladesh in the seventies and the citizenship law was also enacted by the junta. Things changed little for the Rohingya even after the political reforms in 2011 that eventually led to the first general elections in 2015, as the democratically-elected government-headed by President Htin Kyaw has been unwilling to grant citizenship.
Sectarian violence between Rohingyas and Rakhine’s Buddhist natives began flaring up in June 2012, following the rape and murder of a Rakhine woman in a Rohingya-dominated locality. The riots, which were triggered as a result, went on for almost a month with causalities on both the sides.
Another round of riots broke out in October, due to which the government moved around a million Rohingyas to refugee camps. Thousands of Rohingyas fled their homes and sought refugee in neighbouring Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority nation. Some of them sought asylum in South East Asian nations of Thailand, The Phillipines, Indonesia and Malaysia.
This ethnic conflict flared up as religious violence spreading to the other provinces of Myanmar. It was finally contained in 2013 after military intervention.
What happened on August 25 this year?
Muslim militants in Myanmar staged a coordinated attack on 30 police posts and an army base in Rakhine state on August 25. The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a group previously known as Harakah al-Yaqin, which instigated the October attacks, claimed responsibility for the attacks. In the counter attacks launched by Army at least 59 of the insurgents and 12 security personnel were killed.
The ARSA is an armed guerilla outfit, which is active since 2016, claiming to fight for a “ democratic Muslim state for the Rohingya.” The group has been targeting Myanmar armed forces. Bangladesh and India have also claimed ARSA is creating trouble in their soil too.
The “clearance operations” to root out ARSA launched by the Myanmar military has once again affected the lives of Rohingya, many of whom have been living in relief camps since 2012. Reports of villages being torched, civilian deaths, and Rohingya youths being picked up for interrogation have followed the militant attack.
Bangladesh problem with Rohingya muslims
An estimated 87,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh since late 2016. The influx has been increasing since August 25. About five lakh Rohingyas have already taken shelter in Bangladesh over the last two decades and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is clearly unwilling to take in more. She has even urged the United States to to put pressure on Myanmar to stop the exodus of Rohingyas. “We have given shelter to a huge number of Rohingya refugees on humanitarian grounds and it’s a big problem for us,” she had said. The country has opened its border for Rohingyas upon UNHCR’s request and continues to shelter Rohingya in over-crowded refugee camps at Cox Bazar.
What about Rohingya in India?
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs there are approximately 40,000 Rohingyas living in India. They have reportedly reached India from Bangladesh through the land route over the years. MoS Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju, recently informed the parliament that all the Rohingyas in India were “illegal immigrants” and they will be deported soon, a decision that has surprised many given the record of India accepting refugees.
Without overtly mentioning Rohingya, the Home Ministry in an advisory to states said “infiltration from Rakhine State of Myanmar into Indian territory…besides being burden on the limited resources of the country also aggravates the security challenges posed to the country.”
A case is pending in Supreme Court with the petitioner asking the Union government to stop with its deportation plans.