Indian Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar and Myanmar's Social Development Minister U Soe Aung signed an MoU on Wednesday in Naypyidaw, the capital of Myanmar, that allows India to undertake development works in the impoverished Rakhine province. In recent months, almost half a million Myanmarese Muslim population popularly known as Rohingyas had to leave their homes in the Rakhine province and take long and perilous tracks to Bangladesh, where they are put up in makeshift refugee camps. They were under attack from the Myanmar Army, which as per the UN description, is carrying out systematic ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. The exodus of Rohingyas from the Rakhine province has been going on for a long time. The international community stood appalled to see the plight of fleeing Rohingyas, who undertook arduous and life-threatening voyages in small and cramped boats to places like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand, leaving behind their homes and properties. They also paid whatever they had to middlemen for illegally entering these countries. There were many instances when their boats were intercepted by the security agencies of respective countries and were left stranded in the sea. As many as 40,000 Rohingyas entered India too and they are living in different parts of the country, unwilling to return to the lawless land of Rakhine.
As the exodus of Rohingyas continues and different countries, especially Bangladesh, have to accommodate these fleeing population, China had offered to mediate between Myanmar and Bangladesh on the issue. China has also blocked UN Security Council's condemnation of the Myanmar government and a similar resolution in the UN Human Rights Council. China has also inked an MoU with Myanmar to develop a Myanmar-China Economic Corridor. And, amid the scare of sanctions by the Western and Islamic world, Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi undertook a visit to China. In the face of the ongoing refugee crisis and international criticism of the Myanmar government, China has been trying to increase its engagements with Myanmar.
Myanmarese government and people are traditionally wary of China's meddling in its affairs. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who paid a visit to Myanmar in November had actually tried to explore the common grounds for cooperation between the two countries. India had supported the Myanmar government's efforts to eliminate terrorist elements from its land. But it can not remain a silent spectator when such a huge population is meted out inhuman atrocities, rampant killing, and savagery in its immediate neighbourhood. Such incidents usually have a spillover effect as well. A considerable number of Rohingyas have tried to cross over to Indian side in Mizoram in recent past.
The Indian foreign ministry has been quietly working with all stakeholders and trying to find its role in resolving this crisis. It has sent relief materials to Bangladesh for the Rohingya refugees. It is not sending back the Rohingyas in India immediately. And, now it is ready to build homes and undertake other development works in the Rakhine province. But all these efforts do not add up to much as the Rohingyas are still suffering both in Rakhine province and elsewhere.
As the international pressures mount on Myanmar to protect the rights of Rohingyas, we see a helpless Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who herself was a darling of human rights activists worldwide, neither doing anything nor speaking against the violence. She may not have authorised the Army to conduct such anti-Rohingya operations but she could have easily spoken against the violence. A number of Nobel Laureates including Desmond Tutu and Malala Yousafjai have appealed Kyi to denounce the military action. For her, that would have meant going against the establishment, of which the Myanmarese Army is an integral part. That would have meant relinquishing the power and taking up the mantle of an opposition leader. In her long struggle against the Myanmar government, Aung San Suu Kyi has learnt better about the ways the Myanmar government functions. And, she knows it well that in order to change it she has to remain a part of it. She cannot fight the system from outside.
India has historical and strategic reasons to remain engaged with Myanmar and the Indian help to restore normalcy in the Rakhine province would be a great help to Myanmar at this juncture of its infant democracy. Meanwhile, the refugee camps in Bangladesh are teeming with out-of-school kids, pregnant women, infirm elderly. There is very little food, water or sanitation. And to top it all, there are apprehensions that some of these people can get radicalised or come in contact with radical elements. Bangladesh which is hosting half a million poor Rohingyas as refugees is particularly apprehensive of new terror modules emerging from this crisis. So is India, which has been at the receiving end of terrorism for more than a decade.
As the world stands by the Rohingyas and finds the Myanmar government failing in its duty to protect its citizens, the Myanmarese viewpoint that it is acting against terror elements does not find many takers. The international community would like to see the Rohingyas rehabilitated in their own land in Rakhine province. But that is neither easy nor coming so soon. And, until that time the refugee crisis is going to fester on, increasing the pressure on host countries.
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