By Alok Bhatt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
COX’S BAZAAR, Bangladesh – Enduring a 30-year history of persecution in their native land, members of the Rohingya Muslim minority continue trying to elude human rights abuses under the Burmese junta. The Rohingyas, who generally reside in the state of Myanmar, have been able to cross into neighboring nations such as Bangladesh and Thailand to escape impunity. However, the recent construction of a razor-wire fence along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, across which many Rohingyas traverse in search of freedom from subjugation, further undercuts the Muslim minority groups’ reach for liberation.
The razor-wire barrier effectively eliminates one of the Rohingya peoples’ only routes to less hostile territory. Though the Bangladesh government neither recognizes nor welcomes the Rohingyas, hundreds of thousands of them reside in makeshift camps in Bangladesh. Although the U.N. attempted a repatriation into Myanmar for the Rohingyas in 2005, government threats of higher oppression of the minority Muslim group ended the initiative.
By keeping the Rohingyas within Myanmar borders, the government may continue to exploit and abuse them. The Burmese government persistently denies Rohingya Muslims any form of national citizenship and continues to force the minority group into labor. The Myanmar government also has a history of executing military operations against civilian Rohingyas. In 1978, an army operation called “Nagamine” targeted Rohingya civilians living illegally in Myanmar and entailed the destruction of schools, mosques, and other structures.
Considering the disposition of the ruling powers of Myanmar, Rohingya refugees in Thailand and Bangladesh cannot return to their homes. Effectively disallowed from re-entering Myanmar borders, the Rohingyas must live under derisory, unsanitary conditions of refugee camps with a scarcity of food and clothing.
Bangladeshi authorities have also taken measures to prohibit more Rohingyas from entering the country. Border patrol used to arrest and imprison Rohingya peoples attempting to cross into Bangladesh illegally. However, given the significant number of refugees attempting to cross, Bangladeshi jails quickly became filled with Rohingya escapees looking for solace in Bangladesh. Operations recently began to send new Rohingya refugees back to Burmese land.
Bangladeshi officials released statements saying that the Rohingya minority places a social and economic burden upon Bangladesh. Although relief funds from Germany and numerous human rights organizations help maintain the refugee camps, the Bangladeshi government refuses to allow the Rohingyas to indefinitely remain within the nation’s borders.
Without a home to find peace, it seems the plight of the Rohingyas will continue to plague the group until the international community devises an effective means to secure the minority groups’ rights.
For more information, please see:
Al-Jazeera – Rohingya suffer in Bangladesh camps – 28 October 2009
Burma Library – Bangladesh-Myanmar Relations and the Stateless Rohingyas – June 2001
Mizzima – Germany donates $430,000 for Rohingya relief in Bangladesh – 17 October 2009
ReliefWeb – Bangladesh expels Rohingyas – 16 October 2009