Millennium Post

Most persecuted in South Asia

Recent communal riots targeting Rohingiya Muslims in Rakhine province in western Myanmar have sent scores of defenceless people scurrying towards Bangladesh border for safety. However, Bangladesh authorities, grappling with a Rohingiya influx problem from before, have forced most fleeing refugees back into Myanmar, where they probably face certain death. International civil right groups, criticising Bangladesh, have appealed to Dhaka to observe standard defined norms and accept the refugees for the time being.

During the last few days, a virtual pogrom has been unleashed in parts of Myanmar against the Rohingiyas Muslims, who are not treated as citizens as not being 'local'. During the past decades, they have been driven out of Myanmar, then ruled by the army, on one pretext or another several times. The majority of those expelled have settled in Bangladesh, with an estimated 2,50,000 people in and around the Cox’s Bazar area. This had caused much bickering between Bangladesh and Myanmar. International agencies had helped financially, as Bangladesh pressed Myanmar to accept its people. Some Rohingiyas crossed over in to India as well.

The most recent riots were sparked off by an alleged rape of a Buddhist lady, 26-year-old Thidar Htwe, who was killed later, by three Rohingiyas. Six days later, aggressive Buddhist crowds slaughtered 10 people, dragging them down from a bus and later setting them on fire, in the town of Taungkok. The victims were not locals, but returning from a pilgrimage. Then as curfew was imposed, Buddhist crowds in Rakhine went on a looting, burning and killing spree targeting Rohingiya households and villages, as non-Buddhists stayed at home. Gruesome scenes and details were circulated on the Internet. The police did not act.

As desperate refugees rushed towards the Bangladesh border, their boats were stopped on the river Naf, as Bangladesh authorities did not allow them to cross. Some were forced to return to Myanmar. This led to sharp protests from human rights groups which reached the area. The new democratic government declared an emergency, which was welcomed by the Rohingiyas, because of the hostile role played by the police.

The worst victims, as usual are women and children. The exact death toll and quantum of losses may never be known, according to available reports.

The tragic aspect of the matter is the hardening of attitudes in Bangladesh itself against their fellow religionists. The Awami league government has been supported by Jatiya Party leader and former president H M Ershad, in its refusal to help the Rohingiyas. Bangladesh has a population of 160 million people already, he has argued and said Rohingiyas should go to 'other neighbours' of Myanmar. UN and other international authorities, he suggested, should intervene and ensure that those already staying in Bangladesh should also return to Myanmar. He also accused Rohingiyas of anti-social behaviour.

Given this backdrop, the situation looks bleak for Rohingiyas, 'the most persecuted group in South Asia', as described by an influential magazine.
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