HomeArticleUN must prevent forced return of Rohingya to Myanmar

UN must prevent forced return of Rohingya to Myanmar

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim

The US State Department’s determination that the persecution of the Rohingya minority by Myanmar meets the criteria of a genocide is regarded by scholars as one of the most obvious and clearest genocide determinations they have seen.

But the persecution of the Rohingya is not yet a historical event. A small proportion — less than 30 percent — of the Rohingya people of Myanmar who did not flee the genocide over the past decade continue to be subject to arbitrary violence by state authorities and non-state militant groups. Meanwhile, nothing about the legal and social environment that enabled the military’s original “clearance operations” in the north-western state of Rakhine have changed. All this while countries such as Bangladesh and India are reeling from political pressure in hosting the refugees.

India, which is host to 40,000 Rohingya, last month forcibly repatriated a Rohingya woman to Myanmar, separating her from her children. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that hundreds more Rohingya are being detained by New Delhi in preparation for deportation. The Indian government has in the past returned dozens of Rohingya to Myanmar, claiming they left voluntarily.

The ideal outcome of the Rohingya situation is for them to be able to return to their homes in Myanmar. The problem is that for the most part, those homes no longer exist. They have been either burned to the ground or redistributed to Buddhist citizens. The plans are not for the Rohingya refugees to be returned to their homes: It is for them to be moved to refugee camps in Myanmar, as opposed to neighboring countries where they have sought shelter.

This would be catastrophic. International relief organizations and humanitarian observers have good access to the Rohingya in neighboring nations, and can offer support both to the refugees and to the governments in managing the situation. Most of these organizations, however, have already been banned from Myanmar where, according to some of the very same organizations, encamped Rohingya live in “open-air prisons.”

So the plan is to move the refugees from precarious but largely safe conditions, to precarious conditions where they would be at the mercy of their previous attackers and out of sight from the international community or anyone who might want or be able to protect them.

In the long run, it may be in principle possible to allow for the Rohingya to return to Myanmar. But before that can even be contemplated, Myanmar must change. The country must overhaul its 1982 Citizenship Law that rendered the Rohingya stateless in the land of their forefathers and enabled systematic abuses against the community by the state for decades.

The Rohingya must have received the same status and the same legal rights and protections as everyone else in the country. State institutions and civil society organizations must be purged of those who have orchestrated this genocide, and these individuals must find accountability before international tribunals.

And the broader cultural attitudes toward these indigenous people among the broader Buddhist society must shift back toward historical reality and the kind of mutual concern for the humanity of others that Buddhism likes to take pride in as an ethos.

Myanmar must overhaul its 1982 Citizenship Law that rendered the Rohingya stateless in the land of their forefathers.

But the highest priority must be the safety of what remains of the Rohingya. And realistically, for the foreseeable future that safety can only be ensured by the international community while they remain in safe nations.

To that end, the international community must work with Bangladesh to invest in the refugee communities in order that the Rohingya and host countries can together build a sustainable, shared community of mutual respect and advantage.

And so far as it is possible, the international community must seek to recover the costs of this endeavor from those who have instigated the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya from Myanmar, and the military leaders who, incidentally, also control most of the country’s wealth.

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim is a director at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy in Washington DC and research professor at the Strategic Studies Institute US Army War College. Twitter: @AzeemIbrahim

Rate This Article:
No comments

leave a comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.