Millennium Post

Immigrant Impasse

The international community can emphatically raise its feeble voice against the persecution of Rohingyas but it is only Myanmar that can effectively resolve this crisis.

Immigrant Impasse
Forced displacement of people due to war and/or internal unrest has conspicuously been a constant in recent times. The year 2015 marked two major crises that garnered global attention: the European refugee crisis, and (to a lesser extent) the mass migration of Rohingya people. Driven away by war, thousands of people from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq traversed seas to seek shelter anywhere in Europe. Few found refuge in America. Those refugees, in their places of asylum, are known for their respective origins. The exodus of the Rohingya people of Myanmar, on the other hand, is a strange and unfortunate phenomenon for several reasons. Their very origin is essentially negated and disputed and their identity violated for basically just being different.

In modern times, it is difficult for people of a place to remain permanently rooted there and closed off and still somehow manage to thrive. Migration and movement, no matter the scale, are inevitable. So began the story of the 'Bengali' people in Rakhine state of Myanmar who are racially, ethnically, and lingually distinct from other Burmese people. Their most contentious distinction is their non-Buddhist faith. Described as the most persecuted minorities in the world by the UN in 2013, Rohingya people are deprived of citizenship under the Burmese law. Most are accorded the status of 'resident foreigners', not citizens. The 1982 Burma Citizenship Law distinguishes three categories of citizenship: citizenship, associate citizenship, and naturalised citizenship, all authenticated by a colour-coded Citizenship Scrutiny Card consistent with the holder's citizenship status.
Citizens are those people who belong to one of the national races of Myanmar or whose ancestors settled in the country before 1823 (the beginning of British occupation of Arakan State). For someone who cannot prove that his ancestors settled in Burma before 1823, he or she can be classified as an associate citizen if one grandparent, or pre-1823 ancestor, was a citizen of another country. To become a naturalised citizen, a person must be able to provide 'conclusive evidence' that he or his parents entered and resided in Burma prior to Independence in 1948. The troublesome burden of proof has made it difficult for most Rohingyas to secure citizenship. Several Rohingya families migrated to and settled in Arakan during the British colonial period, not before. This makes clear grounds for excluding them from Burmese citizenship.
Although the presence of Rohingyas in the region can be traced back to the eighth century, the Burmese law does not recognise this ethnic minority as one of the national races. The difficulties and atrocities these people face are many. Due to absence of citizenship, their movement across the country is restricted, their options to acquire a higher education are considerably cut down, and they are disqualified from holding any public office. All this amounts to but one thing: systemically marginalising and alienating Rohingyas in their own land because they don't have the papers to prove what the Burmese establishment (of the majority) wants. So, even if there was no violence and conflict to drive these people away, their migration, given the circumstances, was inevitable because people will naturally seek opportunities to thrive.
Having prepared and organised the method of banishing Rohingyas from Myanmar, their persecution and gross violation of human rights happens in the worst forms like human trafficking, sexual abuse, forced labour apart from confiscation, damage and destruction of their property and constant harassment. Although the Rohingyas are long-standing residents of western Myanmar, a community that includes a mix of precolonial and colonial settlers, the government of Myanmar still, officially maintains that they are illegal migrants from Bangladesh (from a time which even the government cannot prove). The reason behind the plight of these people today is not their ethnicity but the Burmese government's adamant position that excludes Rohingyas from the eligibility criteria for citizenship. Some tweaking with the clauses can accommodate Rohingyas legally, then the suffering, the innocent and the miscreants may be dealt with accordingly. But, apparently, Myanmar does not want them and intends to push them over to any place beyond its borders.
Ashin Wirathu, a nationalist Burmese Buddhist monk is known to be at the helm of anti-Rohingya (anti-Muslim) movement in Burma. Also known as Osama bin Laden of Buddhism, he has been accused of inspiring persecution of Muslims through his speeches. In an interview with GlobalPost, he said that "Muslims are like African carp. They breed quickly, and they are very violent, and they eat their own kind." Another time, he said that "You can be full of kindness and love but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog", implicating the minority Islamic community in Myanmar. Highly uncharacteristic of Buddhism, a semblance of context to this dates back to 1946 when Muslim leaders of Arakan region (Rakhine state) met Muhammad Ali Jinnah and pleaded for the formal annexation of two townships of the Mayu region to (then) East Pakistan. Jinnah refused stating that could not interfere with internal matters of Burma. The newly Independent Burma, too, rejected this demand. Thereupon, a conflict broke out to 'liberate' Arakan from Burma, sowing the seeds of this prolonged communal clash.
It may be concluded that peaceful coexistence with the ethnic majority was not top on priority for the Rohingya leaders initially but there is no doubt that the apathy of the Burmese government has compounded matters for Rohingyas of the present times, pushing them over into genocide. The international community can emphatically raise its feeble voice against the persecution of Rohingyas but it is only Myanmar that can effectively resolve this crisis.
(The author is Editorial Consultant and Senior Copy Editor with Millennium Post. The views are strictly personal.)
Kavya Dubey

Kavya Dubey

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