The recent movement of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Rakhine in Myanmar across the border to Bangladesh has been called out as one of the most ignored refugee crises in the world. It stems from a long history of persecution of the community involving denial of citizenship and, more recently, the blocking of aid agencies from providing support in the province of Rakhine where the minority community mostly resides.
This concerted campaign to force the Rohingya out of Myanmar has rendered them a stateless as well as homeless community. The Rohingya have been turned back from the borders of Bangladesh repeatedly. While being reluctant to assist in the crisis, Bangladeshi officials say that 174,000 Rohingya have sought refuge in their country since October 2016. They have been living in squalid conditions with lack of access to water, food and homes as aid agencies grapple to come to terms with the situation and the lack of political will.
Myanmar’s response to recent events and its framing of the situation plays to a willing audience who have no qualms in associating Muslims with terrorism. Leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s office last week accused aid workers of helping ‘terrorists’, when in fact state terrorism is being inflicted on a minority ethnic group.
Myanmar’s Muslim neighbours’ response to the crisis, albeit delayed, has come with calls for the country to change its policies and curb atrocities on the Rohingya. Countries like Turkey have also expressed willingness to take in refugees, surely sending a message of relief to the persecuted group. The need of the hour is for South East Asian states to take the initiative in accepting Rohingya refugees for rehabilitation within their borders.
Meanwhile, Myanmar and its neighbours should realise that the Rohingya crisis is potential fodder for home grown militancy and support from international jihadists. The latest attacks have led to calls from al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban to defend Myanmar’s oppressed Muslims. The current crisis is one that can easily create worldwide repercussions.
Efforts from bodies like the United Nations and its subsidiaries in consultation with regional blocs are needed to start a dialogue among Myanmar and Rohingya leaders. This will be the only permanent way out of the crisis.