WHILE the plight of the Rohingya has been overshadowed by the Covid-19 pandemic and February’s military coup in Myanmar, the fact is that the community remains in no-man’s land, with many of its members lacking citizenship and its attendant rights. Around a million Rohingya refugees reside in Bangladesh, living in deplorable conditions, while others have sought refuge in countries across the globe. Many members of the community were forced to flee when the Myanmar military launched a pogrom against them in 2017. The situation was particularly tense in Rakhine state, with reports of rape and murder against the Rohingya rife. Myanmar faces charges of genocide in the International Court of Justice for these outrages. Meanwhile, the living conditions of the community in refugee camps are pathetic; several thousand have been dumped on a Bangladeshi island far from the mainland without job opportunities and proper healthcare.
While many in the international community have rightly slammed Myanmar’s junta for overthrowing an elected government, the plight of the Rohingya must not be forgotten. Along with a return to representative rule in Myanmar, the international community must also demand justice for the Rohingya. For long Myanmar’s ruling generals have pushed the xenophobic trope that the Muslim Rohingya are ‘outsiders’ in the Buddhist-majority nation, despite the fact that members of the community claim their roots in the country formerly known as Burma go back generations. Even the quasi-democratic government of Aung San Suu Kyi did not have the courage to speak up for the fundamental rights of the Rohingya. It is these circumstances that led the UN to terming the Rohingya the most persecuted minority in the world. Myanmar cannot be allowed to disenfranchise an entire community, while those responsible for violence against the Rohingya must be brought to justice. In the meantime, countries that host Rohingya refugee communities must treat them in a humane, dignified manner and ensure that they have access to healthcare, education and employment opportunities.
Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2021