A Stateless People: Rohingyas

It is unimaginable that in this 21st century sections or communities of people are denied citizenship and right to nationality. Myanmar is one classic example where Rohingyas (Muslims) living in Rakhine State are denied citizenship and statehood.

Since the 16th century Muslims have settled in Rakhine State known as Arakan. Even if they have migrated from Bengal, are not four centuries sufficient time for them to obtain the right of citizenship?

The conscience of the world got a jolt only when news items were flashed across the world about groups of refugees in rickety boats along the Strait of Malacca and the Andaman Sea heading for South-eastern Asian countries including Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. It has been reported that skeletons of Rohingyas were unearthed from mass graves in Thailand’s jungles.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, about 25,000 people have been taken to boats within a span of three months, January to March 2015.

This spurt of exodus was aimed at escaping systematic persecution unleashed against them by the Myanmar government and the Buddhist population. It is reported that the crisis has been aggravated by smugglers who enjoy fishing in troubled waters. Many have been reported to have died on the way and several thousand remain stranded on boats at sea with little food and water. Collectively dubbed as ‘boat people’, these unfortunate victims of racial hatred and inhuman treatment are a question mark on the wide screen of our conscience.

Those who have stuck back are herded like cattle in highly guarded camps in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine and they are considered expelled Rohingyas. About 140,000 of them are camped in ghetto-like villages under tight surveillance and without provision for proper livelihood. They are not allowed to leave the camps.

The United Nations has described the Rohingya as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities. And yet this World Body does not appear to have enough power to intervene and arrange citizenship for these hapless victims.

Even Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient of Myanmar and State Counseller seems to be washing her hands off the issue. When she stood against the Burmese military regime and was put under house arrest, a sympathetic world stood with her on humanitarian ground. But in this crisis situation of a persecuted minority in her own home land she appears to harbour a studied silence. The Human Rights organisations which supported her in her political rebellion are wondering if her posture is not a planned strategy not to jeopardize votes in the parliamentary elections soon to take place.

How much can a suffering minority depend on men and women with political ambitions? Even if their peripheral support is extended, it may not last long as political winds can sway even human rights equations.

Article 15 of the World Declaration of Human Rights (1948) accords to every human person the right to a nationality. But, in spite of this beautiful declaration, why are the UN members not stepping in to solve such issues including the ever growing refugee problems?

“President General Thein Sein  publicly stated that the Rohingya people should be expelled and the UN should take their charge as refugees, a call which was promptly rejected by the UNHCR. This attitude of the Myanmar government is worse than racial discrimination. It is an apartheid policy that has no place in the 21st century. The regime has been using the 1982 Citizenship Law as a convenient camouflage (a cover) to hide its sinister plan to depopulate Myanmar of any Muslims. Plain and simple! Let’s call a spade a spade.” ( Dr. Habib Siddiqui in www.eurasisreview.com, at Conference on “Contemplating Burma’s Rohingya People’s Future in Reconciliation and (Democratic) Reform,” held on August 15, 2012 at the Thammasat University, Bangkok.)

Given India’s standing among the South East Asian countries, it should also be able to use its diplomatic relation with Myanmar government in this matter. India supported the cause of Aung San Suu Kyi in her revolutionary campaign for a semblance of democracy in Myanmar. Does not India have a bounden duty to interact with Aung San Suu Kyi and her government to bring about an amicable human solution to the Rohingya crisis?

According to Indian government estimates, around 40,000 Rohingyas may be living in India illegally. The Narendra Modi government senses big security threat from the Rohingyas. It is advising Bangladesh to give them asylum. It appears that India will not want to allow Rahingyas in India.

Whatever be the neighbouring countries’ cautious approach, the international community should step in to find a clear solution to the Rohingya crisis. It is indeed a humanitarian issue which cannot be brushed aside.

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