|Volume 6 | Issue 07 | July 2012 ||
The Debate over the Rohingya Issue
DWAIPAYAN BARUA reports from Teknaf, Cox's Bazar, on the fleeing Rohingyas from the Rakhine state of Myanmar who sought refuge in Bangladesh following the sectarian violence there, with a focus on the recent debate over the issue.
The Rohingya issue, which remains a long-term problem for Bangladesh, has again created a tension here. Sectarian violence in the western state of Rakhine in neighbouring Myanmar early last month triggered increasing attempts by the Rohingyas to seek refuge in the bordering area of Teknaf in Bangladesh. The government, however, has not allowed any refugee yet. Bangladesh though welcomed Rohingya refugees twice earlier in late 1970s and early 1990s which led to a huge influx, this time the issue has raised many questions.
The issue has given birth to a debate over the question of strategic reality on one hand and aspect of humanity on the other. The present government is coming up with the argument that the country is already overburdened with over five lakh Rohingya refugees who have been staying in the country for decades causing social, economic and political crisis. Many, on the other hand, have criticised the government's strictness for paying no heed to humanitarian aspects. But there are some other questions that need to be answered. The beauty of the Naff, which flows gracefully between the two countries, serving as the border, enthralls many. It, however, failed to have any impact on the Buddhist and Muslim rioters who got busy in killing each other. So, the question to ask is why the two religious groups are pitted against each other and what stands in their way of peaceful living.
The poor Rohingya mother who was forced to flee with her six-month-old infant, leaving behind her burning house, her beloved three other children in the clash-ridden village Sakkipara in Akiab (also known as Sittwe), travelled through rough sea on a small engine boat for two or three days at a stretch with little food and water. She surely proved how brutally humanity was at stake in Myanmar. When Myanmar is on its way to democracy, it is only expected that communal harmony will be restored in due time.
Being members of a minority group, Rohingyas have long been facing problems in Myanmar regarding their rights including citizenship. It is commonly known that they are not issued the same identity cards usually issued for other Myanmar citizens. Rohingyas have been living in different areas of Myanmar for centuries. They were there even before its independence in 1948. Yet, they have not been treated as Burmese citizens.
Some unwanted incidents led to the recent violence which was triggered by the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman in late May. The incident prompted a series of revenge attacks. On June 3, 10 Muslim pilgrims were reportedly dragged out from a bus and lynched. Then violence erupted at Maungdaw on June 8 as Rohingyas engaged in a clash with Buddhist Rakhines after the Jumma prayer. The situation worsened when the Luntin Armed Police Battalion members allegedly helped Rakhine Buddhists and took part in looting and attacking Rohingyas. The Myanmar government deployed its army on June 11 in those localities having withdrawn the Luntin forces from those areas for their controversial roles. During the last two major influxes, it was known that Myanmar's border security force Nasaka had forced the Rohingyas to trespass into Bangladesh but this time it reportedly sealed its border so that none could leave the country.
So, unlike the previous incidents, this time the Myanmar government took some steps including imposing a state of emergency in the Rakhine state in a bid to stop spread of the clash, which looked very positive. Whatever step it took, the sporadic clash could be checked within a few days that would have saved more lives and properties. Several boats with Myanmar nationals from Akiab started coming through the Naff river since June 11 and continued till June 13 and then resumed again since June 17. But the BGB forces pushed them back each time. In fact, the forces have a different story to tell.
The border forces believe these people mostly were job-searching young men who tried to use the crisis period as a chance for trespassing. Rohingyas crossing over into Bangladesh have become a regular phenomenon. Official records show they pushed back at least 200 Rohingyas every month from January to May this year. According to the locals of Teknaf, incidents of Rohingya entering Teknaf increase during three different times a year: January-February, October-November and before the holy month of Ramadan.
Local farmers cultivate salt in this region in January-February and harvest crops during October-November which is why many day-labourers are needed at the time. Young people of Rohingya communities from Maungdaw and adjoining areas try to come here for work at the two seasons and also come here for work before Ramadan to earn money and return immediately before Eid festivals. Common people of Teknaf and Cox's Bazar despite having usual sympathy for distressed Rohingyas do not want any more arrival of Rohingyas here as a huge number of refugees have already created pressure on land, food and economy and side by side creating social problems. Many of the Rohingyas are engaged in different criminal activities including drug or yaba smuggling and arms peddling. The two registered Rohingya camps accommodate only 26,000 people while a good number of them are living in two unregistered camps and elsewhere in Chittagong. As the Rohingya camps remain quite unprotected due to lack of fencing, people easily can get in and out of these camps opening up scopes for crimes.
Many demand that Rohingya camps could be shifted and located away from the border to discourage regular trespassing. It also becomes difficult for the law enforcers to differentiate the Rohingyas due to similarity of their appearance and accent with the local people. Repatriation process of these Myanmar refugees which stopped in 2005 should be resumed and the respective governments should play their roles in this regard.
The young Rohingyas who have been living here in the camps since their birth are no more willing to carry on a refugee life. They also want rights and amenities required for human beings. They do not believe migration to Bangladesh or any other countries could be a solution to the crisis. Rather, they dream for a perfect democracy to be established in their homeland so that they can return there with honour and security.
Dwaipayan Barua is Staff Reporter, Chittagong Bureau, The Daily Star.
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