Skip to main content

Rohingya Muslims need the world to prevent another slaughter

An international coalition willing to pool diplomatic, commercial, political and military resources is the only meaningful way forward

While the mass killing of Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar's security forces might have subsided - at least for now, given that more than 700,000 have found temporary safety in the makeshift refugee camps in the border region of Bangladesh - the persecution and harassment of the Rohingya within Myanmar continues.

Last Sunday, a boat carrying 106 displaced Rohingya, including dozens of women and children, was stopped and seized by Myanmar's security forces approximately 30 kilometres south of Yangon, with all of the terrified passengers being arrested.

Later that same day, 20 Burmese police officers entered Ah Nauk Ye camp in search of the owners of the boat, firing their weapons into the air and at onlookers, leaving four Rohingya Muslims shot and two others in a critical condition. Police arrested two men and charged them with attempting to smuggle the 106 Rohingya out of the country.

"People from the camp went out to look and police shot at people," said Maung Maung Aye, a 27-year-old Rohingya, in an interview with the Reuters news agency.

Fresh wave of dangerous voyages

The boat carrying the Rohingya passengers was bound for Malaysia, and given that there have been numerous other reports of similar boat departures in recent weeks, human rights groups are concerned that a fresh wave of dangerous voyages is about to begin. This also raises alarms that Myanmar has again stepped up its efforts to terrorise the approximately 500,000 Rohingya that remain in the country.

Added to this growing insecurity for the Rohingya is the fact that Bangladeshi security forces have begun using violence to intimidate refugees since the government announced its temporary halt to the repatriation plan

Even more alarming is the fact that Bangladesh reached an agreement with Myanmar this past October to send 720,000 Rohingya refugees back into the arms of those who raped, shot and hacked their families to death, even though the United Nations has described the situation as an "ongoing genocide" in Myanmar.

The first tranche of refugees was scheduled to be forcibly deported to Myanmar last week, but faced with hunger strikes, protests and a growing chorus of international condemnation, Bangladesh announced it would stall deportations until 2019, which leaves the international community a small window of opportunity to resolve this crisis in a way that guarantees the safety and future wellbeing of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority.

This window will close very quickly, however, as Bangladeshis go the polls on 30 December to elect a new government. 

Post-election promise

"Elections are coming up now, so the government will only finalise a future course of action after the elections," said Abdul Kalam, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner. To this end, the post-election period promises grim news for Rohingya refugees, as the political climate in Bangladesh has become increasingly hostile towards them.

Rohingya refugees queue at an aid relief distribution centre near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on 12 August 2018 (AFP)
Naveed Iqbal, a British surgeon who has provided medical aid to Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, told MEE: “Bangladesh is one of the world’s poorest countries, so when impoverished Bangladeshis see humanitarian aid trucks drive past them on the way to the Rohingya refugee camps, they feel understandably jealous and resentful.”

Initially, most Bangladeshis welcomed their persecuted Muslim neighbours from Myanmar, but many have since started to blame the Rohingya for stealing their jobs, increasing criminal activity and driving up prices of food, gas and general living costs.

‘Vulnerable to evil forces’

In recent months, anti-Rohingya sentiment has been high among residents in and around Cox’s Bazar and in the capital Dhaka. They have reportedly been told to watch out for Rohingya refugees outside the camps.

“It’s for our security, so they can’t get up to any terrorist activity,” explained Kazi Abdur Rahman, a deputy district administrator in Cox’s Bazar, adding that while there’s no evidence to support the claim that the Rohingya are involved in criminal activity, they remain "vulnerable to evil forces" because of their desperate plight.

“We’ve accommodated them, but for how long?” Abdur Rahman asked. “Our crop fields are destroyed. Our forests are destroyed … It’s a huge impact for the whole community.”

Heart of darkness: Face to face with the Rohingya crisis
Nizar Dahan
Read More »

Added to this growing insecurity for the Rohingya is the fact that Bangladeshi security forces have begun using violence to intimidate refugees since the government announced its temporary halt to the repatriation plan. 

“Right now, the security forces are operating in the camps with total impunity,” John Quinley, a human rights specialist with the non-profit organisation Fortify Rights, told VOA.

Earlier this month, Fortify Rights reported that Bangladeshi soldiers had rounded up 18 Rohingya leaders and beat them to pressure them into cooperating with a UN-backed project to provide refugees with “smart cards”, which the Rohingya fear will be shared with the Myanmar government to track them.

Full citizenship rights

The international community must enact measures that not only place guaranteed security for Rohingya refugees at the centre of a multilateral policy to repatriate them, but also provide them with full citizenship rights.

The cycle of violence against the Rohingya has been occurring periodically since 1978, and given that an overwhelming majority of UN member states have been vocal in their condemnations of Myanmar’s crimes against humanity, an international coalition that’s willing to pool diplomatic, commercial, political and even military influence is the only meaningful way forward.

Otherwise, the Rohingya will be left with only hollow rhetoric and a repatriation deal that guarantees their slaughter.

CJ Werleman is an opinion writer for Salon, Alternet, and the author of  Crucifying America and God Hates You. Hate Him Back. Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Rohingya refugees are pictured at the Balukhali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar in southern Bangladesh on 17 November 2018 (AFP)

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.