No place to hide

Home > Star Weekend > In the shadow of violence
12:00 AM, October 13, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:29 PM, October 14, 2017


No place to hide

Photo: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

By Dr Bina D’Costa

Playing hide and seek is a much loved game for children throughout the world. In conflict zones, adults frequently use the metaphor of the game to explain to their young children that they need to hide and should try their best not to be found. The larger role of adults in the lives of children is protecting them from violence as best as they are able to. Sadly, persecuted children are denied sanctuary to hide from political violence instigated by adults. This is a global phenomenon. This piece briefly narrates the context and effects of the current spate of violence on children in Western Burma/Myanmar.

The context

Derived from Rohang, the ancient name of Arakan, the Muslims of Burma’s west coast identify themselves as Rohingya. Realising the deeply embedded prejudice the term carries with it, many Rohingya in recent decades prefer to be labelled simply as Arakan Muslims. In all formal and most of the informal discussions in Myanmar, the widely used term for Rohingya is “Bengali Muslims” or “illegal Bangladeshis”. The key problem of legitimacy and citizenship for the Rohingya is linked to this debate about what exactly to call these persecuted people. While all identity groups should have the right to name their own group, through census programmes, textbook revisions and the systematic silencing of Rohingya in broader public discourse, they have been wiped out from the living memory of modern Myanmar. A handful of academics who have until now explored the crisis of identity at the heart of the Rohingya “crisis” have analysed these exclusionary politics of citizenship through the lens of race vs ethnic group identity. Nick Cheesman argues that “National races or taingyintha is among the pre-eminent political ideas in Myanmar today. ” Cheesman also notes “lexically and legally, national races trump citizenship. To talk of the political community ‘Myanmar’ is to talk of taingyintha, and to talk to that community is above all to address its members not as citizens but as national races.” As such, the questions of how and why the Rohingya community is being systematically wiped out through certain genocidal and “ethnic cleansing” practices must also be explained through the understanding of what kind of systematic processes does an ethnic group legitimately belong to in modern-day Myanmar. This argument cannot be won by suggesting that Rohingya belonged to ancient Arakan that is part of modern Myanmar but rather with reference to the “Myanmafication” of the state in which “Burma” became “Myanmar” (Gustaaf Houtman, 1999). What I am suggesting is that to understand and successfully resolve the plight of the Rohingya, the political history of intractable conflicts and militarisation of Burma/Myanmar must be considered. Bangladesh has very little understanding of Myanmar. This must be changed to figure out long-term solutions to the massive forced displacement the country is dealing with.

Photo: Cathal Mcnaughton/reuters

Rohingya’s erasure from Myanmar’s state and societal memory also occurred against the backdrop of the protracted conflicts that touched all ethnic groups in the country over the last 60 years. Hundreds of thousands of people of diverse ethnicities, faiths and cultures were killed, tortured, raped and displaced and were forced to seek refuge beyond Myanmar’s borders. There are also more than half a million internally displaced people (IDPs) within Myanmar. Many of them, including children, work under slave labour conditions. In this context, Rohingya citizenship status has simply not been a priority issue for any unified human rights movements.

Myanmar has returned to some stability recently, but the situation for Rohingya remains complex and vexed. This is due to the legacy of political, social and psychological trauma and persecution across Myanmar society. There is little or no unified civil society response for Rohingya, leading to a culture of impunity and the absence of a proposal for peaceful co-existence within Myanmar’s multi-ethnic society. Myanmar’s other ethnic groups in many instances genuinely do not believe that Rohingya belong to the modern nation-state of Myanmar. Despite there being only three percent being Muslims in Myanmar, there is a genuine anxiety that Islamisation will spread. Indonesia is often cited as an example in this context.

Sadly, the human rights organisations and women’s rights organisations in Myanmar have not publicly defended Rohingya. Karen Women’s Organisation is a notable exception.

Nearly half of the newly displaced are children. They narrated stories of violence that tell a tale of international crimes. Photo: Rashed Sumon

Statelessness and disenfranchisement

There are eight major national ethnic groups that could be broken down into another 135 ethnic groups. Myanmar, through its 1982 Citizenship Law recognises the Kaman and Bamar Muslims in its Muslim populations. Its population also includes Chinese Muslims and Indian Muslims. However, the largest Muslim population living in the Rakhine State, the Rohingya, are not recognised in the list—this has effectively rendered them stateless.

The forced migration of Rohingya that generated the recent crisis beginning from 1942 is well documented. What is less known, at least in Bangladesh, is that from 1920s, the word kala was being widely used to describe Indian Muslims, Indian Hindus and Burmese Muslims. There were anti-Muslim riots led by primarily ethnic Bamar in 1926 and 1938. In 1930 there were serious anti-Indian riots. The “Burma for Burmese” campaign of the late 1930s is deeply embedded in the discourse of the Myanmafication of Burma that I noted earlier.

Photo: Star file

We are also familiar with some of the key exclusion policies and strategies in Burma/Myanmar that started with the military coup, after which freedom of movement was restricted in 1962; the promulgation of the Emergency Immigration Act designed to prevent people entering from India, China and Bangladesh in 1974; the census programme Nagamin, to check identification cards and take action against illegal aliens in 1977; and finally the 1982 Citizenship Law enacted, following the 1978 exodus, when many Rohingya returned or attempted to return to Myanmar.

In Myanmar’s first openly contested election in 25 years in November last year, 2015 Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won a landslide victory. The 2008 constitution also reserves 25 percent of seats in the Parliament for members of the military, which primarily controls security policies and practices of Myanmar. The electoral politics prior to general election and the restriction imposed on political rights contributed to the further disenfranchisement of the Rohingya. The right of temporary identity cards of an estimated 700,000 Rohingya and other minority groups to vote were revoked in May 2015 (See OHCHR report on Rohingya, June 28, 2016). The new Parliament has no Muslim members.

U Ko Ni, Aung San Suu Kyi’s advisor, a well-known lawyer and one of the most prominent Muslims in Myanmar was assassinated in January 2017. This event marked the beginning of the end that we are now witnessing in 2017. U Ko Ni was widely believed to be the one who advised forming the position of State Counsellor for Aung San Suu Kyi as she was barred from the presidency under Article 59(f) of the 2008 Constitution primarily drafted by the military. In recent years, U Ko Ni had publicly pushed for constitutional reforms and advocated for a drastic reduction of the military’s political powers. A former military officer was suspected of the killing. Aung San Suu Kyi was not only remarkably silent for a while after the assassination but she didn’t attend his funeral. It is worth noting that Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticised for her silence in responding to the plight of Kachins when the Tatmadaw launched ground and airstrikes in Kachin State. Following a 17-year ceasefire in Kachin and northern Shan states, armed conflicts emerged when KIO (Kachin Independence Organisation) turned down government proposals to ethnic armed groups and economic development projects such as the Myitsone hydropower dam, generating “new” grievances. Thousands of Kachin refugees were turned away by China.

Unicef/brown (courtesy Photo)

Implications for children

While the forced displacement of Rohingya has been a constant factor even before Bangladesh became an independent country in 1971, in order to understand the most recent surge, it is worthwhile to go back to 2012. Following allegations of rape and murder of Thida Htwe, a Rakhine women, the Rakhine mob lynched 10 Rohingya men in June, 2012 (see for details: “The Rohingya and the denial of the ‘right to have rights’“). The international community did not pay sufficient attention to the deafening silences projected by the government in Myanmar and counter the strategy of self-censorship that was employed to strategically and innovatively deliver humanitarian assistance to affected people. These strategies had backfired by 2017.

Systematic persecution, extreme poverty and alienation have led Rohingya to seek asylum in other countries. An OHCHR report estimates that 2,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshis died at sea between 2012 and 2015 (submitted to the Human Rights Council, 32nd session, June 2, 2016). While there are no reliable figures, there are reports that many of them are children.

On October 9, 2016, nine border guards were killed in three attacks in Myanmar’s north-western border with Bangladesh. The President’s Office held a previously unknown Rohingya group liable (Human Rights Watch report). Soon after troops started to arrive in Maungdaw, a regional curfew was declared and 400 schools around the area were closed. While access is restricted in the Rakhine state, the following statements indicate the gravity of the situation. Pierre Peron, the spokesperson of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Myanmar, estimated that over 30,000 people were displaced by the attacks carried out by the Tatmadaw.

Currently there are 146,500 internally displaced people in the Rakhine state. Mostly comprising of Muslims, there are some Buddhists, and almost all the IDPs live in camps. More than 51 percent are girls and women, with more than 54 percent children (Shelter/NFI/CCCM cluster, Rakhine cluster analysis report, November 1 , 2014, on file with IDMC). Following the renewed crackdown since last year, these camps have been severely affected. Due to the crackdown in the area by mid-November 2016, more than 3,000 Buddhist Rakhine were displaced. In northern Rakhine, one-fifth of children under the age of five suffer acute malnutrition (UNICEF factsheet).

Photo: Rashed Sumon

Food and medical supplies in the camps provided by the international organisations have either been either restricted or completely stopped, contributing to the further vulnerability of children. Sexual abuse, lack of proper sanitation and medical supplies have several affected sexual and reproductive health of girls and young women.

Widespread accusations of rape of Rohingya girls and women were either denied or shrugged off by the authorities. However, some of the responses to the accusations indicate how deeply the Rohingya are despised. For example, Aung Win, the chairman of Rakhine investigation committee in his interview with the BBC last year laughed and stated that the soldiers would never rape Rohingya women because “they are very dirty”. These responses and the most recent denials clearly show how Rohingya, especially women and girls, can be quickly dismissed from any recourse to justice.

Children are also vulnerable when they are crossing treacherous borders to seek refuge. On August 25, 2017, ARSA (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army), a Rohingya insurgent group, which according to the International Crisis Group was formed after the 2012 violence, attacked police posts and attempted to raid an army base in 25 locations. The disproportionate counter-offensive carried out by Tatmadaw forced Rohingya population to flee across the border to Bangladesh.

Referring to the humanitarian crisis and the resulting displacement, UN Secretary General António Guterres called for “swift action” to prevent further instability and find durable solutions. UN agencies are now seeking more funds to cope with the massive displacement. During a joint meeting with the Emergency Relief Co-ordinator and UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake advised, “We shouldn’t let the numbers of this crisis numb us to the fact that every one of these numbers represents a human life, the majority of whom are children—children who need our urgent help”. As of September 30, an estimated 501,800 people have entered Bangladesh since the attacks, with more than 15,000 people coming in every day. People continue to come in through different crossing points, including by marine routes in coastal areas on the Bay of Bengal, over the Naf River in Teknaf and via land crossing points in Ukhia and Bandarban District.

Nearly half of the newly displaced are children. Up to 60 percent of the new arrivals are children and 30 percent are children under five years old. Seven percent are infants less one year old. Three percent of the newly arrived refugees are pregnant, and seven percent are breastfeeding women. They narrate stories of violence that tell a tale of international crimes. UNICEF estimates that there are over 1,600 unaccompanied children who are at particular risk of human trafficking, sexual abuse, child labour and child marriage. There are 720,000 Rohingya children (both from previous and current displacement statistics) who remain vulnerable and require urgent support. Up to one in five refugee households are headed by women, and five percent by children. Over 45,000 children are malnourished.;

UNFPA stated that the horrific accounts of rape and sexual assault against Rohingya women and girls could be “just the tip of the iceberg”, and that 120,000 of the recent displacement in Cox’s Bazar since August 25 are women of reproductive age and 24,000 are either pregnant or breastfeeding. About 60 percent of Rohingya girls were married before the age of 18. It is worth noting here that a UNHCR Report published in 2016 on mixed movements in Southeast Asia noted that one in every three women and girls said that they were victims of domestic violence.

Unicef/brown (courtesy photo)

There are currently 23 camps along the border and a number of makeshift camps. Bangladesh had originally reserved 2,000 acres of land near to Kutapalong camps for new arrivals. After the number of arrivals exceeded 500,000, another 1,000 acres has been sent aside. Bangladesh has plans to construct a “mega camp” for 800,000 Rohingya in this new refugee zone. The refugees are living in dire conditions. Displaced Rohingya children need special support and this support must include undocumented children and those in make-shift camps. Children are arriving exhausted, hungry, traumatised and in desperate need for food, clean water, sanitation and healthcare.

The Leda camp is now sheltering 30,000 Rohingya. This camp occupies 25 acres in the hills near Teknaf. Since it started as a makeshift camp in 2007 and the population was not registered with the Bangladeshi government, children did not have access to public services, including education, health and psycho-social support. While long-term solutions are being considered, children in make-shift camps need immediate and adequate access to services as well.

The recent wave of forced displacement also has broader regional implications. Leda is close to a Rakhine village where only 120 Rakhine families live. People in this village are worried that the inter-communal tension will spill over across the border and there is grave concern that the minority Buddhist community in Bangladesh will be targeted by extremists, where minorities and indigenous populations have been attacked and displaced numerous times under a range of pretexts. Some zealous local Bangladeshi Muslims have attacked indigenous Bangladeshis and Buddhists, including monks, in different incidents. The Bangladesh Buddhist Federation has repeatedly condemned the ongoing repression. Raja Devasish Roy, a widely respected leader of Bangladeshi civil society and the Chakma Circle Chief, issued statements urging the government to engage in bilateral and international diplomatic initiatives. Protesting the persecution of Rohingya, the Buddhist community in Bangladesh cancelled flying fanush during Probarona Festival, the second largest religious festival of Buddhists on October 5. These are positive examples of the spirit of solidarity (shouhardyo) and compassion (karuna) that should be upheld and celebrated in Bangladesh and Myanmar.

We need more civil society voices, particularly those from faith-based institutions who have symbolic authority, to speak up and unite diverse opinions. It is really important to recognise and denounce hate speech. Myanmar needs to prioritise inter-communal dialogue in Rakhine state. Access to humanitarian actors in Rakhine state to provide services to children and their communities is crucial to save lives.

Every child has a right to live in dignity and has a right to childhood; they all have a right to be protected from violence.


  1. Nick Cheesman (2017) ‘How in Myanmar “National Races” Came to Surpass Citizenship and Exclude Rohingya’, Journal of Contemporary Asia, 47:3, 461-483
  2. Bina D’Costa (2012)  ‘Rohingya and the ‘Rights to Have Rights’, Forum, The crisis has broader regional implications’. Vol 6, Issue 08, The Daily Star.
  3. Houtman, G. 1999. Mental Culture in Burmese Crisis Politics: Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy. Tokyo: Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.

Dr Bina D’Costa, Lead Migration Research and Evaluation Specialist, UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti and Associate Professor, Department of International Relations, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, College of Asia and the Pacific, the Australian National University.

The article was first published in Daily Star on 14 October 2017. We shared it for our readers.


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Rohingya Repatriation: First batch to return Aug 22

Home > Rohingya Crisis

01:38 AM, August 16, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:44 AM, August 16, 2019

Rohingya Repatriation: First batch to return Aug 22

Say Myanmar officials; Bangladesh official says it’s not confirmed yet

Rohingya Repatriation : First batch to return Aug 22, 2019 but Bangladesh not yet confirmed.

Star Report

Myanmar and Bangladesh will start another attempt next week to repatriate thousands of Rohingyas who fled violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, officials said yesterday, nearly a year after a major attempt failed.

The move follows Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s recent visit to China and Japan, two of Myanmar’s close allies, that want a bilateral solution to the crisis. The Rohingya influx started two years ago on August 25.

On July 30, Bangladesh handed a list of 25,000 Rohingyas of 6,000 families to a visiting Myanmar delegation during a meeting at the state guesthouse, Meghna.

Bangladesh had earlier handed Myanmar lists of some 30,000 Rohingyas for verification of their identity, but only 8,000 of them were verified. Repatriation could not begin as scheduled on November 15 last year as the refugees refused to go.

Reuters reported yesterday that a total of 3,540 refugees have been cleared for return by Myanmar from a list of more than 22,000 names recently sent by Bangladesh, officials from both countries said.

The first group of refugees would return to Myanmar next week, providing any agree to go back.  “We have agreed to the repatriation of 3,540 people on August 22,” Myint Thu, a spokesman for Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Reuters.

Delowar Hossain, director general (Southeast Asia) at the Bangladesh foreign ministry, told The Daily Star: “There is a possibility [of repatriation]. But it’s not confirmed yet.” Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam said he has “heard something like this”, but was not sure.

Nearly 750,000 Rohingyas fled Rakhine for Bangladesh after a military-led crackdown in August 2017. The United Nations said the perpetrator had “genocidal intent”. Previous attempts at persuading Rohingyas to return to Rakhine have failed due to opposition from refugees. An effort in November failed after the refugee protested.

The refugees say they want to return to Myanmar, but seek the guarantee of citizenship, UN-backed safe zone in Rakhine, recognition of their ethnicity as Rohingya and return to the place from where they were driven out.

A senior Bangladeshi official told Reuters the new effort was a “small-scale” repatriation plan, adding that nobody will be forced to return. “Bangladesh wants nothing but a safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable repatriation,” said the official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak to media.

Mohammed Eleyas, an activist of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, said refugees had not been consulted about the process. Myanmar should agree to the key demands of the community before repatriation begins, he said in a message.

UN officials have been asked to survey the refugees verified by Myanmar to determine whether they want to return, according to internal emails by the refugee agency, UNHCR, seen by Reuters. “UNHCR will provide refugees with the relevant and reliable information available on the conditions in Myanmar, subject to current constraint on access in the areas of return,” one of the emails said.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya remain inside Myanmar, confined to camps and villages across Rakhine state where they are denied citizenship and their movements restricted.


The UN has said conditions in Rakhine state, where government troops have been fighting an insurgency for months, are not conducive for the return of refugees.

The region has been enveloped in a new war, with government troops fighting Arakan Army insurgents, members of an ethnic armed group that recruits from the mostly Buddhist Rakhine, who make up the majority in the area. A UN investigator said in July that human rights violations against civilians by security forces and insurgents may amount to fresh war crimes, citing reports of deaths during army interrogations.

Myanmar authorities have blocked most humanitarian agencies, including the UN, from the area. In July, an Australian think-tank said the government had made “minimal preparations” for the return of refugees.

An analysis of satellite imagery showed no signs of reconstruction in the overwhelming majority of former Rohingya settlements, while destruction of homes continued as recently as this year, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said.

Min Thein, a director at Myanmar’s social welfare ministry, said officials had been sent to reinforce several centres built on the border with Bangladesh that have sat empty for months. “We are preparing to be ready — cleaning the transit camps, reinforcing the staff levels,” said Min Thein.


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Myanmar’s Doubtful Stance on Rohingya Repatriation

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Myanmar’s Doubtful Stance on Rohingya Repatriation

A.K.M. Atiqur Rahman > 9th August, 2019 11:05:51

A.K.M. Atiqur RahmanThe writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary

In the last week of July 2019, a 19-member Myanmar delegation, headed by the country’s Foreign Secretary Myint Thu, visited Rohingya camps in Kutupalong, Cox’s Bazar to talk to the Rohingyas concerning their repatriation to their homeland. In addition, the delegation, for the first time, was accompanied by a 5-member ASEAN observer group. As indicated by the Myanmar delegation, the purpose of their visit was to motivate the Rohingyas staying in Bangladesh to return to Rakhine and such efforts would also continue in future. They have talked to the Rohingyas for encouraging them go back to Myanmar considering the existence of a favourable situation there. Both the delegations held meetings with several groups including a group of Hindu Rohingyas.

After all these discussions, the Chairman of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights said that they have placed their demands to the Myanmar delegation for their repatriation which includes ensuring their citizenship and freedom of movements. But, so far we understand, the Myanmar delegation has not said anything about their citizenship, though they talked about other things like health, education or social services. Then, what does it mean? There remains something gloomy. And that is about their right of citizenship. The Myanmar government, if it is really honest and sincere, should clarify this important point which will encourage the Rohingyas return to their ancestors’ house.

Ending their visit to the Rohingya camps, both the delegations returned to Dhaka and had meetings with the officials of the Bangladesh government. At a joint press briefing following that meeting, the leader of the Myanmar delegation said that he had asked the Rohingyas to consider their return to Myanmar. He further informed that Myanmar is ready to welcome the Rohingyas. While joining the briefing, the Acting Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh said that Naypyidaw must generate trust among the Rohingyas for their spontaneous return. If that trust is not there, the Rohingyas will not be encouraged to return.

In that case, Bangladesh cannot forcibly push them back. But how long would Bangladesh continue sheltering the Rohingya population of Myanmar? Is Bangladesh capable of shouldering this burden for unlimited time? We should also think about the crisis in that way in view of the ongoing repatriation drama of the Myanmar government.

On this issue, the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, Dr AK Abdul Momen, while talking to media people on another occasion, said that they should go back to their motherland to realise their rights and they should understand that it would not be possible to realise their rights (citizenship) unless they were not there. However, he has mentioned that Bangladesh wants safe return of the Rohingyas. In this context, a question comes automatically in our mind: If the Myanmar government grants them citizenship at all once they arrive in Myanmar on good faith without confirming their citizenship in advance. We can trust a liar, but it might be difficult to trust the so-called military backed government of Myanmar.

Just two days before the visit of the Myanmar delegation to Bangladesh, the Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, while visiting Turkey, in an interview with Turkey’s Anadolu Agency on 26 July 2019, said that Myanmar’s Rohingya had faced a genocide during brutal military-led crackdown in Rakhine state in 2017 and that those who fled their homeland should be granted the right to citizenship or given a self-governing territory. However, Myanmar government has denounced Dr. Mahathir’s comments calling it violation of ASEAN’s non-interference policy. Mahathir’s comment might increase the pressure on Myanmar from the ASEAN bloc.

We can recall, a few weeks back, US Congressman Bradley Sherman had proposed attaching the Rakhine state with Bangladesh in a bid to resolve the Rohingya crisis. In response, the Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said, “We have our borders and we are happy with it. We completely disagree with adding another country’s territory to ours. We will never take it.” Instead, Sheikh Hasina had requesteded Mr. Sherman to urge Myanmar to take back its citizens. If Bradley Sherman can do something on that, it would be a big humanitarian act. Bangladesh believes in peaceful co-existence with all states and in particular with the neighbours. That’s why Bangladesh has been seeking the support of the international community to press Myanmar government for the repatriation of Rohingyas.

Very recently, the UN investigators, on 5 August 2019, have urged world leaders to impose targeted financial sanctions on companies linked to the military in Myanmar. The UN fact-finding mission has requested the world community to sever all ties with companies linked to the armed forces and to implement a complete arms embargo. The report, for the first time, has come out with a clear picture of the involvement of specific European and Asian companies. The team leader has said that it is a violation of UN treaties and UN norms. They have identified at least 59 foreign companies with some forms of commercial ties to the Myanmar military. Of these, 15 operate joint ventures with two military conglomerates or their subsidiaries. Calling for imposition of arms embargo on Myanmar, the team also named 14 companies that have sold weapons and related equipment to security forces of Myanmar since 2016, including state owned entities in Israel, India, South Korea and China. However, the Myanmar government, as usual, has rejected the report like all previous UN reports including allegation of genocide.

By this time, as we know, USA, EU, Australia and Canada have imposed sanctions on senior military officers of Myanmar. The EU has also been considering stripping the country of tariff-free access to the world’s largest trading bloc. The UN has said that top generals should be prosecuted for genocide and the International Criminal Court has begun a preliminary probe. We are not sure whether these activities would help solve the crisis permanently. Might be, these would add some additional pressure on Myanmar to come forward with a positive attitude, at least for the time being.

Understanding the importance of China’s role in solving the Rohingya crisis, Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has recently visited China mainly to discuss this issue. China showed very positive intention to cooperate with Bangladesh in the repatriation of Rohingyas, but they might not want to be involved directly. Direct involvement of China might hamper China’s interest in Myanmar. In view of that, they might prefer a settlement of the crisis bilaterally between Bangladesh and Myanmar. We know that China and India are involved in weapons trading with Myanmar as reported recently by the UN investigators. We should note this development and continue our excercise on this crisis accordingly.

We know that over a million Rohingyas had to leave their ancestral land in 2017 in fear of the atrocities of the Myanmar military and were given shelter by Bangladesh. Though a Memorandum of Understanding on the repatriation of Rohingyas was signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar on 23 November 2017, but not a single Rohingya has so far been repatriated to Myanmar due to the insincererity of the Myanmar government, even agreeing the commencement of repatriation from mid-November 2018.

We know, while a similar delegation, headed by the Foreign Secretary of Myanmar visited the Rohingya shelter houses on 31 October last year, the Rohingyas raised their 6-point demand that included citizenship, security, return of their agricultural land, settlement on their own houses, and bringing of the perpetrators to justice. The Foreign Secretary of Myanmar assured them that he would place their demands to his government. Then, it is not understood why they, once again, have discussed those issues during their present visit, instead of informing them some positive developments on those crucial demands. Is it not the repetition of their tactics of eye-wash, or delaying the repatriation?

Perhaps the time has come to think about other ways of resolcing this crisis. We can find a few examples of such crises in other parts of the world. Hopefully, we know the mind-set of the Myanmar government as well as the international community, including China, India and Russia. We also understand our status vis-a-vis Myanmar and others. Do we think of getting any positive result from Myanmar as we outline? Then, why we are going for so many meetings and visits with the Myanmar authorities, if we cannot produce anything positive? Nobody knows these Rohingyas might, one day, be a very big problem for us to handle, particularly in our internal security management.

However, above all, we wish to see the repatriation of Rohingyas start at the earliest confirming their full protection in Myanmar including their right of citizenship. Simultaneously, let the international community continue their own course of actions.

The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary


Posted in International, Media, Myanmar, Publication, Report, Rohingya

The situation requires immediate global action

Home > Law & Our Rights 
12:00 AM, August 06, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:36 AM, August 06, 2019


The situation requires immediate global action

Photograph of Nickey Diamond (ND)

Law Desk (LD): How do you see the present Rohingya crisis?

Nickey Diamond (ND): From the Myanmar government policies and practices, it has appeared that the recent Rohingya crisis is the outcome of a very systematic but unjust and authoritarian rule. The example is the citizenship law of 1982 by which the right to citizenship of the Rohingyas was arbitrarily taken away, although the 1947’s post-independence Constitution of Myanmar and the 1948 Union Citizen Act recognised the Rohingyas as one of the ethnic communities in the country. Later, 1974 and 2008 Constitutions of Myanmar did not recognise the Rohingyas as being the citizens and ethnic community. Constitutional fabric and citizenship law together made the Rohingyas a stateless population. However, the problem is not of the law and policies only. Discriminatory practices of the government also contributed to the making of the present crisis. Once the right to citizenship was denied to the Rohingyas, they became stateless and could not enjoy their basic human rights. To me, it’s not a recent issue but a several-decade long issue and the government continues to ignore it. The military leaders and their previous regime considered the Rohingyas as the ‘illegal immigrants from Bangladesh’ and recently after the 2017 August crackdown they said that the ‘Bengali problem’ is unfinished business. This is the kind of unfortunate scenario what I see on the face of the Rohingya crisis.

 LD: Can you illustrate the patterns of discrimination against the Rohingyas which basically facilitated the state-led persecution in 2017?

 ND: We have been documenting Rohingya suppression in northern Rakhine for a long time. Since 2012, they have been forced to live in concentration camps under strict surveillance of the security forces. They could not go out of the camp and did not live like other communities with individual freedom and liberty. They could not even go to another village. They were subjected to movement restrictions and needed special permission to get married and have children. In 2016, we witnessed some systematic execution of government policies. For example, protective fences around the Rohingya houses were removed, and knives and other sharp implements (basically used for agriculture purposes) were confiscated. Security patrols, house searches and cases of beatings, theft and extortion gradually increased. In 2017, the oppression grew more violent and the Rohingyas became defenceless. The kind of measure adopted by the Myanmar state apparatus, I consider, facilitated the 2012 violence which was a kind of preparation for undertaking a larger attack and displacement in August 2017 and committing a crime of genocide against the Rohingya ethnic minority group.

LD: Will you reflect on any propaganda used by the perpetrators?

 ND: Institutionalised discrimination in the past and also the Buddhist nationalism played a role in the making of the crisis. Most of the political leaders and monks made propaganda that Buddhism, Buddhists, and Buddhist-nation are under attack by the Muslim Rohingyas who are, to them, the ‘Bengali population’ and ‘illegal immigrants’ to Myanmar. This kind of religious intolerance and indoctrination through ideology into the body-politic of the state made the Rohingyas more vulnerable and the victims of state atrocities. Ordinary people truly believed in all these radical ideologies and became a part of state-led persecution of the Rohingyas. This kind of radicalisation and abuse of religion had been going on for several decades in Myanmar and one of the problems centring the present Rohingya crisis.

LD: Do you believe that a terrorist organisation like Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) exists?

 ND: I have talked to the Rohingya community leaders several times on different occasions. They always tell me that an organisation like ARSA may exist, but they do not support any kind of armed struggle or armed conflict. They truly believe in seeking their ethnic identity, restoration of citizenship rights and peaceful co-existence in Myanmar. In a situation of decade-long discrimination and deprivation by the state, it is no wonder that some external forces like terrorist organisations might have tried to mobilise and radicalise ordinary Rohingyas. It is possible that some potential situation may have driven few of them – may be a hundred or so – to fall into the trap of radicalisation. However, the majority Rohingya population believe that an armed struggle cannot bring any real solution to the crisis.

LD: What is your expectation from the international community?

 ND: I am a little sceptical about the international response and action regarding the Rohingya crisis. The international community is taking time and seeking legal justification under international law to act for solving the Rohingya crisis. We need to understand that it is a case of mass atrocity, millions of people are displaced and have already become a humanitarian burden for another state, i.e. Bangladesh. The situation requires immediate global action responsive to the crisis, specially in terms of holding the perpetrators accountable under international criminal law. Though the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has taken an initiative to investigate into the matter, the Court is itself struggling with different political challenges which actually frustrate us who are time and again raising our voices to ensure justice for the Rohingyas. Apart from this criminal justice aspect, the issue of reparation and repatriation is also a big issue right now to the crisis since most of the perpetrators are now in power in Myanmar. In such a situation, it is very difficult to ensure accountability of the perpetrators and justice for the Rohingyas. The question is – under what basis and confidence the Rohingya people will return to their homeland, unless a tangible assurance is given and a visible measure is taken by the government in power. Since the perpetrators are still in power and they are not taking the responsibility of the safety of the Rohingyas, the chances remain that they might again violate and kill these Rohingya people on their return to Myanmar. Hence, a potential danger exists even in future to the crisis.

LD: Thank you for your time.

ND: You are welcome.


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Myanmar citizenship: Rohingyas have only one option

  Home >  Bangladesh > Rohingya Crisis

Myanmar citizenship: Rohingyas have only one option

Humayun Kabir Bhuiyan >  Published at 03:12 pm August 5th, 2019
Writer of this Article
File photo of Hundreds of Rohingya shout slogans as they protest against their repatriation at the Unchirprang camp in Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar Reuters
That option is also not guaranteed due to several issues, including lack of goodwill of Myanmar government

The Rohingyas, often described as the most persecuted community in the world, can at best have only naturalized citizenship of Myanmar under the country’s current law, according to senior Bangladeshi diplomats.

The Rohingyas, often described as the most persecuted community in the world, can at best have only naturalized citizenship of Myanmar under the country’s current law, according to senior Bangladeshi diplomats.

They told Dhaka Tribune that under the 1982 Citizenship Law of Myanmar, which has rendered the Rohingyas stateless, the Rohingyas cannot have full-fledged citizenship as they were not included in its list of 135 ethnic groups, people of which are entitled to citizenship.

If the Rohingyas are to be given full citizenship with full political rights, the law and the constitution both will have to be amended. But it seems almost impossible as the overwhelming majority of the country’s people, the government and most importantly the military hold an unfavourable attitude towards the persecuted community, said the diplomats.

Under the current circumstances, they added, Rohingyas will never be recognized as an ethnic group in Myanmar which is something that they have long been aspiring. Striking a note of caution, the diplomats also said that there is still no guarantee that those who apply for naturalized citizenship will receive it. There are many issues, which include lack of documentation proving that Rohingyas have lived in Myanmar for a certain period and absence of the government’s goodwill which hinders the process.

Under the 1982 law, citizenship of Myanmar are divided into three categories — full-fledged, associate and naturalized. The Rohingyas cannot be granted the full or associated citizenship. They can only apply for naturalized citizenship after fulfilling certain conditions.

For instance: if at least three generations — grandfathers/grandmothers, sons/daughters and grandchildren — have lived in Myanmar, Rohingyas will be eligible to apply for the naturalized citizenship status. Once the parents apply, their children and their offspring become eligible to apply.

Eventually, their sons, daughters and grandchildren will be entitled to full-fledged citizenship. When asked if the Rohingyas should apply for naturalized citizenship, a senior Bangladeshi diplomat said: “It is for them to decide. I will just say that this is the only window of opportunity for them as of now.”

Agreeing with the official, another senior diplomat said: “The repealing of the Citizenship Law will be the most ideal situation for the Rohingyas. But, as we speak, it seems impossible as a majority of the people of Myanmar have a very negative view of the Rohingyas.”

“Look, it’s all about good intention of the Myanmar government. If they really want to solve this protracted crisis once and for all, there should not be any problem in amending the law or the constitution,” said another diplomat.

Referring to a recent two-day interaction between the Rohingya community leaders and a Myanmar government delegation in Cox’s Bazar, the official added: “Both sides have agreed to continue talks. During future talks, all aspects of citizenship will be discussed.“The citizenship issue is going to be undoubtedly the most contentious in those talks”

Tags: Rohingya, Myanmar Citizenship


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Malaysia PM’s Call For Rohingya Citizenship Or Separate State Rankles Myanmar

Social Issues > World News 

Malaysia PM’s Call For Rohingya Citizenship Or Separate State Rankles Myanmar

 August 5, 2019  > BenarNews  > By BenarNews

Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad. Photo Credit: US State Dept, Wikipedia Commons.

The Myanmar government on Friday denounced Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad over comments he made suggesting the creation of a separate state for the country’s persecuted Rohingya Muslims, calling it a violation of ASEAN’s non-interference principle.

In an interview with Turkey’s Anadolu Agency on July 26, Mahathir said Myanmar’s Rohingya had faced a genocide during a brutal military-led crackdown in Rakhine state in 2017, and that those who fled their homeland should be granted the right to citizenship or given a self-governing territory.

Thousands of Rohingya were killed during the scorched-earth campaign, while some 750,000 others led to safety across the border to Bangladesh, where they now live in crowded, unsafe camps. Mahathir’s suggestion did not help the situation, said Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay during a news conference held by the president’s office in the capital Naypyidaw.

“What the Malaysian prime minister had said is not in line with ASEAN’s non-interference policy as well as with basic principles in the ASEAN Charter,” he said, referring to the constituent instrument of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional intergovernmental organization comprising 10 countries in Southeast Asia.

“Myanmar and ASEAN are working together on many issues in Rakhine state and what he said did not help, but instead weakened our cooperation,” he said.

Zaw Htay also said that the comment could affect cooperation between the Myanmar and Bangladeshi governments on a refugee repatriation program they both agreed to in November 2017. The returns have yet to get underway because almost none of the Rohingya has expressed a willingness to cross back into Myanmar under current conditions. “Myanmar cannot accept this kind of [interference] in other nation’s internal affairs,” the spokesman said.

Myint Thu address ambassador

Myint Thu, permanent secretary of Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, summoned Malaysia’s ambassador on Wednesday to express his dismay and the government’s objections to Mahathir’s comments.

Besides lambasting the diplomat for going against ASEAN’s cardinal principle of non-interference in the internal affairs and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the organization’s member states, Myint Thu informed him that Myanmar categorically rejects allegations of genocide, the official Myanmar News Agency reported.

The exchange came just days after Myint Thu led a high-level Myanmar delegation that included representatives from ASEAN on an official visit to Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar region to meet with refugees from various camps to brief them on preparations for repatriation and inform them that full citizenship for the stateless minority was not an option.

It was the second time that Myanmar officials have visited the camps to try to convince the apprehensive Rohingya to begin the repatriation process. About 1.2 million Rohingya refugees live in the sprawling camps in southeastern Bangladesh, some of whom fled there from previous violence in Myanmar.

The refugees have said they will not return to Myanmar unless they are granted full citizenship and given guarantees of safety in the country, which considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, denies them citizenship, and subjects them to systematic discrimination.

‘It can be done’

 Malaysian officials voiced support for Mahathir’s proposal. Ahmad Fahmi Mohd Shamsudin, deputy president of the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia, a local NGO, said it would be possible to create a separate territory and citizenship for the Rohingya refugees.

“It can be done by putting pressure on and louder action by the international community, especially the ASEAN countries and communities, so this issue can be solved completely,” he said in a statement to the Malay daily Sinar Harian.

The “human tragedy” that occurred in Rakhine state can only be resolved if the Myanmar government acknowledges the rights to citizenship for the Rohingya, Ahmad Fahmi said. “The citizenship recognition will allow the ethnic group to get their rights and fair treatment based on the principle of humanity,” he said. “The right to citizenship is important as it will allow the ethnic group to have access to the political system and also the socio-economy of the said government.”

Syed Hamid Albar, former Malaysian foreign minister and former special envoy from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to Myanmar, also weighed in on the issue. “We welcomed the statement by Dr. Mahathir that urges that the 1.2 million Rohingya refugee be given full citizenship in Myanmar, or be given their own territory to form a state,” he tweeted.

“The call made by an ASEAN leader has to be fully supported to solve the ongoing crisis with humanity and justice,” he wrote. Syed Hamid went on to point out that Myanmar originally comprised many separate states, and that British colonial rule had forced various ethnic groups to become one nation. “And now they should be treated as citizens or [have territory returned to them] to allow them to form a state,” he tweeted.

‘Myanmar’s internal issue ’

Bangladeshi officials took a different tack, however. “Our prime minister has made it clear that Bangladesh does not support harming Myanmar’s sovereignty. This is our official position,” Bangladesh Information Minister Hasan Mahmud told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, on Friday.

A foreign ministry who spoke on condition of anonymity because he had not been authorized to speak publicly on the issue said the country does not support giving the Rohingya a separate state. “Rohingya are people from Myanmar,” he said. “What Bangladesh only wants is the safe, voluntary, and sustainable return of all Rohingya who entered Bangladesh.” “It is Myanmar’s internal issue whether they will grant citizenship to the Rohingya,” the official added.

Reported by RFA, a BenarNews-affiliated online news service. Muzliza Mustafa and Ali Nufael in Kuala Lumpur and Kamran Reza Chowdhury in Dhaka also contributed to this report.


Posted in International, Media, Myanmar, Publication, Report, Rohingya

Making migration work for everyone

Home > Opinion > Project Syndicate
12:00 AM, August 05, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:55 PM, August 04, 2019

Making migration work for everyone

An exhausted Rohingya refugee woman touches the shore after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal, in  Shah Porir Dwip, Bangladesh, on September 11, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS/DANISH SIDDIQUI

Md Shahidul Haque

In a globalised world, migration is a fact of life that should be governed accordingly. To that end, it is time to establish what I call “Migration Order 3.0,” a new framework that would make migration work for everyone.

Until World War II, transnational human mobility was subject to Migration Order 1.0: immigration controls were established solely at the national level by governments. After the war, international institutions such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the forerunner to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) were created to manage refugee and migrant flows, primarily from and within Europe. During this era of Migration Order 2.0, the movement of people across national borders was governed by mutually agreed norms, standards, and practices.

Large-scale cross-border movements of people, however, have exposed fault lines in that post-war framework. We now know that Migration Order 2.0 is inadequate to the task at hand. According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, most migrants tend to move within their own continents, and not necessarily toward the destinations that one would assume.

Moreover, interconnected global forces are ushering in a new phase of migration, defined by different dynamics than in the past. A global shift in the balance of power has created new geopolitical tensions, and governance failures have led to armed conflicts and civil wars, violent extremist movements, and the rise of ultra-nationalism and populism in many countries. The world is experiencing a violent backlash against globalisation, rising inequality, and sudden labour-market disruptions.

Social inequities, humanitarian crises, demographic changes, and identity politics all pose a challenge to a development paradigm that was supposed to leave no one behind. At the same time, climate change and biodiversity loss are threatening to displace entire populations from vulnerable locations around the world.

In the past, the movement of people tended to follow four broad patterns: migration for work, education, and family; irregular migration, mostly due to human trafficking; cross-border displacements triggered by conflicts and natural disasters; and refugees fleeing persecution. But these four categories have increasingly begun to overlap, which places strain on a system that was designed to manage each type separately.

Today’s mixed migratory patterns demand a more cohesive yet differentiated approach. The costs of maintaining the status quo in response to disorderly migration cannot be ignored. Growing anxieties among host populations are causing an unwarranted backlash, with far-reaching negative implications for economic and political systems. There is also a moral dimension to consider: migrants in all categories are increasingly vulnerable to abuse, owing to lack of access to resources and power.

Fortunately, there are realistic options for improving migration governance. With objective information about migration and its consequences, we can dispel popular misperceptions and reduce social tensions. We can also design and implement policies that will secure the many benefits of migration. Investment in empowering migrants is a win-win proposition for everyone. The vicious cycle of migration, economic hardship, and social backlash can be turned into a virtuous cycle of integration and economic growth.

Of course, all of this is easier said than done. National sovereignty and universal human rights can be difficult to reconcile. Governments struggle to strike a balance between realising the economic gains of migration, protecting native-born citizens’ interests, and ensuring national security. And it doesn’t help that the capacity and resources for governing migration effectively are often in short supply.

Nonetheless, the international community is making progress toward overcoming these challenges. The UN Sustainable Development Agenda includes a specific target (Target 10.7) for optimising migration governance. And the new Global Compact on Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM) provides a non-binding framework to guide countries and other stakeholders toward a more comprehensive approach.

The GCM’s implementation is being overseen by the IOM. Astute observers will note that the GCM’s provisions are perfectly aligned with the principles and objectives that governments have already embraced under the Sustainable Development Agenda and the IOM’s Migration Governance Framework. It does not offer a silver bullet, but it will serve as the blueprint for building a workable Migration Order 3.0.

The final text of the GCM was agreed only last year. As always, mustering a constructive multilateral effort will take political will. But the GCM promises to make migration work for everyone. The only question is how long it will take governments and other stakeholders to recognise it as a powerful tool for addressing the geopolitical dimensions of migration and unite around realising its potential.

Md Shahidul Haque is Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2019.  ( Exclusive to The Daily Star)


Posted in International, Media, Myanmar, Publication, Report, Rohingya
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