Rohingyas deserve help
JACK OF ALL TRADES
Published : Wednesday, 21 December, 2016 at 12:00 AM Count : 205
An estimated 27,000 Rohingya Muslims have crossed into Bangladesh till December 15, after Myanmar troops in a well planned operation killed some 90 people and displaced thousands in its north-western Rakhine state. The military operation was launched immediately after a deadly militant attack on Myanmar border guards in October along its border with Bangladesh.
Rohingyas continue to enter into Bangladesh along its porous border lines, despite Boarder Guard Bangladesh (BGB) maintains vigilance and often pushes back dozens of boats carrying shocked and distressed Rohingyas, who after being driven away by troops have no alternative to cross into Bangladesh to save their lives.
The repelling of boats carrying Rohingyas is reported almost regularly in media as pushback of hapless refugees. These reports have already created a negative image of Bangladesh at home and abroad. It has prompted governments of several countries and the rights organisations including the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) to urge upon Bangladesh government to open its border for the persecuted Rohingyas.
These reported pushback incidents have tainted the image of Bangladesh government not only as ruthless but also as heartless. The administration has also been branded as autocratic in the foreign media in line with the anti-government parties in the country.
These countries and the HRW however also called upon the predominantly Buddhist government in Myanmar led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi to stop persecution and grant rights for Rohingyas as its citizens.
Meanwhile the government in Bangladesh with a tacit reference to insurgent groups of Myanmar reiterated that no terrorist groups of foreign countries would be allowed to use the soil of Bangladesh against any government. But the country despite financial and social constraints has been allowing Rohingyas to take refuge in Bangladesh.
Persecution of Rohingyas in Myanmar is not new; rather it has been perennial since the birth of Myanmar, a former British colony, in 1948. In 1940 the Rohingya population in Rakhine was about 2.5 million. But in 2012 the number fell to 1.1 million as most of them were forced to leave their ancestral homeland by a planned state-led persecution.
Despite they have been living for generations over the last three hundred years in Rakhine state, the Myanmar government does not recognise Rohingyas as its citizens.
They have no rights to higher education and rights of free movement to other districts and regions. They cannot give marriage to their children and cannot build mosques in the locality without permission of the local administration as if they are prisoners within their towns and districts. Rohingyas are no allowed to posses farmlands, do business and get employment in government services for generations. As a result Rohingyas have become a backward community with extreme poverty and almost no modern and even religious education. It has become a polygamous community in which almost most men have multiple wives and a number of children having no means of earning or employment. With these bad practices the Rohingyas have been in precarious situation as the government does not take any welfare projects to change the lot of these backward Rohingya community.
Myanmar government was against Rohingyas since its independence, because according to chronicles in 1946, Muslim leaders from Arakan (Rakhine State) met with Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan and requested him to annex Muslim dominated Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships of Mayu region with East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). But Jinnah refused fearing resistance from Burmese Buddhists community.
All these persecutions and tyrannies over the past decades compelled Rohingyas to stage protests, which were ruthlessly suppressed by the administrations triggering exodus time to time. The major exodus occurred in 1972, 1978, 1991-92, in 2012 and currently since October 2016.
Meanwhile, several Rohingya armed groups known as Mujahideens sprouted to fight persecution could not get much success due to stiff resistance from Myanmar armed forces. Between 1950 and 1957 several Mujahideen groups either surrendered or were neutralised following different military operations.
Later in 1972, Rohingya Liberation Party (RLP) and in 1974, Rohingya Patriotic Front (RPF) were formed and they launched a number of operations targeting Myanmar armed forces. Internal feuds and shortage of funds restricted the groups in achieving success. In early 1980s RPF were divided and a breakaway faction formed Islamic religion based Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO). Another Rohingya militant group, the Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front (ARIF) was founded in 1986. However, all these groups were uprooted one by one by military operations in which general Rohingya people were also severely persecuted. The defeated commanders of these groups being scattered started living in different Muslim countries in Asia, mostly in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
In recent years the severest persecution was meted on this Muslim community in 2012, when 80 people were killed and scores wounded in sporadic clashes in June when some 140,000 people were compelled to take refuge in government-sponsored shelters following communal riots between Buddhist majority and the Rohingya Muslim minority community.
Though Bangladesh officially did not accept fleeing Rohingyas, it sheltered many who managed to cross into dodging the members of BGB. However the intruders did not need to hide, but they lived openly in squalid shanties across the border districts of Bandarban and Cox's Bazar mainly in forested Naikongchhari and Teknaf areas. According to official figures some 500,000 Rohingyas have been living in several big squalid shanties in these two districts for years.
Besides, another 32,000 Rohingyas have been living in two official refugee camps near Cox's Bazar town. They are the remnants of some 250,000 Rohingyas who fled into Bangladesh from Myanmar in late 1991 to early 1992. Others were repatriated to Myanmar through United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The 2012 riot was sparked in June after a Buddhist woman had allegedly been raped and murdered in Taungup of Rakhine state by unidentified criminals. But the Buddhists blaming Muslims stopped a bus and beat 10 suspects to death. The violence further escalated when police shot dead two Rohingya youths during a protest at Maungdaw near Bangladesh border on the following Friday.
Meanwhile a new militant group calling itself Harakah al-Yaqin, or the Faith Movement has been formed to retaliate the persecution of Rohingyas by Myanmar troops. The attack on three out posts of Myanmar border guards in October might have been perpetrated by the group, according to the Belgium-based International Crisis Group.
If it is true it will not be wise for anyone to brand Harakah al-Yaqin or any other group that might spring up to ameliorate the suffering of Rohingyas, as a terrorist group. Rather the neo Rohingya militants should be given status of combaters, fighting for establishing rights of the Muslim community.
In 1971 when Freedom Fighters (FFs) were flaying occupation army through guerrilla tactics, Pakistan government used to introduce FFs as miscreants. When people were compelled to flee their homeland following genocide perpetrated by Pakistan army, India opened up its border and sheltered 10 million refugees from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). India not only sheltered the people, but also gave scope to the Bangladesh exile government to train up FFs to fight guerrilla warfare against the Pakistan occupation army.
Now the time has come for Bangladesh to play the same role which India had played for the freedom loving people of its neighbours. Like their forefathers Rohingyas are eager to see Bangladesh annex their homeland once relieved from the clutch of Myanmar.
Meanwhile Malaysia on Monday called upon Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to coordinate humanitarian aid and investigate alleged atrocities committed against Rohingyas in Myanmar. Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman made the call while speaking at a meeting of the 10-nation bloc in Yangon called by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday.
Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi arrived in Dhaka Monday night to discuss with high government officials the current ethnic cleansing and persecution on the Rohingyas in Rakhine state. During her 24-hour visit, she was scheduled to discuss Rohingya issues with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Bangladesh counterpart AH Mahmood Ali. Her itinerary also included a trip to Ukhia, in Cox's Bazar district, to see the plight of Rohingya refugees.
Bangladesh must cooperate with Malaysia and Indonesia and other Muslim countries in their bid to bring justice to the world's most persecuted community in the Rakhine state of Myanmar.r
Nizam Ahmed is Business Editor, The Daily Observer